Preparing for Wildfire Season in Nevada County – Week 3: Roofs, gutters and screens

Burning embers, known as firebrands, spread fire ahead of the flame front and can ignite buildings up to a mile away from the main fire. CAL FIRE photo

NEVADA CITY, Calif. December 24, 2018 – The majority of Nevada County homes is located in either a High Fire Danger Zone or in the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI.)  The building code applicable to homes in these areas built after 2008 is known as the Chapter 7A of the California Building Code.

In case of a fast-moving wildfire, your home needs to be able to withstand radiant heat, firebrands and even direct flame. Firefighters may not be able to get to your home, hardening your home as much as possible against wildfire is part of getting ready for the next fire season

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The roof of your home plays an important part in the defense against ember cast. Major wildfires can “spot ahead” miles from the fire front, igniting vegetation and homes well ahead of the main fire.

Cleaning your roof and keeping it free from debris and leaves is a recurring chore. Keep in mind, safety first. A sturdy ladder to access your roof and a person to hold the ladder are a must. The ladder can also be used by firefighters if they are attempting to defend your home from an approaching fire.

Wait until the roof is dry, slipping on a wet roof – even a relatively flat one –  can lead to a fall and injury. Use a leafblower if available, or a broom. Using a garden hose to clean off a roof wastes water and increases the risk of a fall.

If your gutters don’t have debris guards (mesh or solid) installed, make sure to remove all leaves and debris accumulated. In case of embers falling on your house, any leaves in the gutters will ignite and set the roof on fire faster.

According to the Nevada County Building Department, new roofs building guidelines include:

  • Roofing material shall have a Class A fire rating.
  • Roofing valley metal flashing shall be minimum 26 gage with 36” wide 72lb cap sheet underlayment installed.
  • Roof gutters shall have debris guards installed.

Screens – small is better 

Roofing vents must be made out of ignition-resistant materials and have openings of 1/8”-1/16” only. Your favorite hardware store has these vents in stock, replacing them is an inexpensive way to reduce ember intrusion into the attic.

Eaves

Exposed and closed eaves need to be built with non-combustible or ignition-resistant materials. If your home has open eaves, removing spiderwebs and other debris goes on your chore list when cleaning your roof.

Don’t forget the shed

Carports, barns, sheds and any other structure on your property (think well house) need to be kept free of leaves, just like your home.

Resources, permits and help

The Nevada County Building Department has resources available to help you upgrade any aspect of your home. Start by downloading their WUI brochure for an overview of the latest building standards.

The State Fire Marshal has issued Wildfire (“CBC Chapter 7A”) Code Compliance Policies and Accepted Products. A searchable database of WUI building materials is available on the Office of the State Fire Marshal’s website.

This concludes Week 3 of 25, check back next Monday for “Brush clearing and disposal” – when and how to do it and what not to do!

Find previous stories in our special Ready for Fire Season section.