Following the Beaver Creek Fire’s scorching run through Greenhorn Gulch, where one home was destroyed and firefighters saved 30 others, Ketchum Fire Chief Mike Elle said he will be “fighting tooth and nail” to get wood-shake roofs banned on new construction in Blaine County.
Elle said flammable roofs put firefighters in danger and slow their response time to other homes.
“The wood shingles have got to go,” he said.
He said a good time to propose such a ban to the Blaine County Commission will be when the state of Idaho adopts the 2012 International Fire Code. The code is updated every three years and automatically becomes the minimum standard of county and municipal codes.
State Fire Marshal Mark Larson said he is “on track” to adopt the new version, which will go into effect Jan. 1 as a temporary measure, and as a permanent measure after approval by the Legislature.
Larson said the new code does not ban wood-shingle roofs, but local governments can add stricter provisions.
Elle said the firefighters who battled the flames roaring through Greenhorn Gulch on Aug. 15 are “heroes.”
“Talking to Forest Service folks, they’ve never seen conditions that were that bad when structures were present,” he said. “They expected to lose many more.”
Elle said the house that completely burned, at 239 Greenhorn Rd., was a log structure with a wood-shake roof. Only two chimneys were left standing after the fire roared through.
Blaine County code requires homeowners to have 30 feet of “defensible space” between their homes and flammable vegetation. However, Jeff Nevins, assistant chief with Wood River Fire & Rescue, said homeowners also need to be aware of the possibility of “ember storms” whenever a wildfire burns nearby. He said the owner of the home at 239 Greenhorn had hired a contractor to cut a fire line around the house, which stopped the flames on the ground but not the hot embers that landed on the roof.
“The windows were breaking out and the fire was gaining purchase inside the home,” he said.
Nevins said firefighters move on to protect other buildings when they see that one is at least 25 percent consumed by flames. He said that was the case at 239 Greenhorn.
“There was so much other activity that commanded our attention,” he said.
Nevins said the single best thing that people can do to protect their homes against wildfire is to build a noncombustible roof. He recommended asphalt shingles or metal, though he acknowledged that metal roofs can cause problems with snow sliding off.
Blaine County and local municipal codes currently require Class A roof materials, which means that they need to meet the highest standard of fire resistance. Nevins said Class A materials can be made to burn, but not in such a sustained fashion that the fire can get through the roof to the inside of the house.
Wood shingles can be treated with a fire retardant to meet the Class A standard. However, Larson cautioned that the retardant deteriorates with exposure to sun and rain. He said even asphalt shingles, which are made of asphalt-coated paper, become combustible when they get old.
Nevins said fire protection in Blaine County has been aided by the county’s Mountain Overlay zone, which minimizes hillside development. He said tiered development in other locations has intensified fires and created dangerous conditions for firefighters.
“The fire runs up the hill and it takes out everything in its path,” he said. “We’re fortunate that we have everything down in the valley, for the most part.”
County code sets a $1,000-per-day fine for violations of the defensible space ordinance. However, Elle and Nevins said local fire departments have little time to spend on enforcement.
Nevins said fire departments are eager to talk to individuals or homeowners associations that want more information on how they can protect their homes against wildfire.
Greg Moore: email@example.com