Fire in California
Impacting people, homes and natural resources
Fire and drought are part of California’s annual cycle of life; however, the last few years in California have been a reality check that the pace and scale of fire adaptation must accelerate. California’s Mediterranean landscapes are adapted to frequent fire, but its people and homes are not.
The last ten years have demonstrated to Californians that the type, frequency, and size of wildfires are here to stay. Adapting to these fire events requires immediate actions at every level- from the family to the community, from homes to wildlands, and throughout government agencies. California’s fire problem is not just about fire. Emergency response, community planning, public health, policy, science—we know now that we need all hands on deck to move forward.
Wind-driven fires blast embers at structures
What the science says about home loss
What can Californians do to improve the chances that their homes will survive a wildfire? Simple actions taken around the home can substantially improve the odds that a home will survive wildfire exposure.
These actions do not have to be costly but require an understanding of the three main types of exposures (embers, radiant heat, and direct flame contact) that a home may experience when threatened by wildfire. See exposures to learn more.
The odds of a home surviving a wildfire can be substantially improved through careful attention to three things: careful design and maintenance of landscaping; awareness and management of combustible materials on the property such as leaf litter, woodpiles, and lawn furniture; and incorporation of fire- and ember-resistant construction materials with appropriate installation and maintenance.
Whether you are building a new home or caring for an older home, there are simple actions to improve a home’s chance of survival. Embers cause the majority of wildfire home ignitions by directly igniting a home or igniting vegetation or materials on or near a home, resulting in flames touching the house or a high heat (radiant heat) exposure that may break glass in a window. Should embers land on or near a house, they can easily ignite the plants and mulch near a home, dry leaves, or lawn furniture. Embers can also enter the home or attic through a vent or open window, ignite the house’s contents, and the home will burn seemingly from the inside out. When embers enter the house directly, there is often little damage to the surrounding vegetation (see photo). It is highly recommended to upgrade or install vents that meet the new flame- and ember-resistant standards.
Example of UC work
UC ANR is involved in fire research and education, helping enhance understanding of fire’s role in human and natural communities and offering guidance about reducing risk. We’ve developed a range of helpful publications and online tools addressing wildfire, fuels management, post-fire recovery, and other fire-related topics. Here is a sample of available resources:
- Reducing the Vulnerability of Building to Wildfire: Vegetation and Landscaping Guidance: https://anrcatalog.ucanr.edu/pdf/8695.pdf.
- Home Survival in Wildfire-Prone Areas: Building Materials and Design Considerations: http://anrcatalog.ucdavis.edu/pdf/8393.pdf
- Fire in California: https://ucanr.edu/sites/fire/ (Includes Homeowner’s Wildfire Mitigation Guide: https://ucanr.edu/sites/fire/Prepare/
For More Information
Contact Yana Valachovic
AP News 2021:
“’We lost Greenville’: Wildfire decimates California town”
The Los Angeles Times 2021:
“Dixie fire reaches 900,000 acres as crews battle multiple blazes across California”
“Caldor Fire prompts states of emergency in Nevada and California, with more than 50,000 told to evacuate the Lake Tahoe region”
“Wildfires in California this year have scorched three times more land than in the same period of last year’s record season”