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FYI-Fire Code Changes to Enhance Your Home's Fire Safety

Wonderful rain may be helping our Valley Center Drought condition for now but the cumulative effect over the past ten years will not change overnight.
The vegetation will continue to grow and then go dormant, dry out, turn brown and become combustible fuel waiting for any spark.
The wildfires of 2003 and 2007 have had a huge impact on lives of residents in the Valley Center area.

The fires demonstrated how vulnerable and powerless we are in the face of wildfire. Below are some examples of the problems that were identified from past local wildland fires:
o Vulnerable building construction;
o Structures ignited by native and landscape vegetation;
o Poor access and escape routes;
o Inadequate water supplies; and
o Limited fire fighting resources.

Valley Center Fire Protection District along with the San Diego Fire Chief's "Fire Prevention" committee, has worked with local fire marshals, planners, environmental experts and the building industry to craft codes that are responsive to the wildfire challenge. Valley Center Fire Protection District's fire codes have been strengthened in successive code adoption cycles with the primary goal of protecting the safety of our citizens and enhancing your home's ability to survive wildfire. Lessons learned from the devastating wildfires of the past resulted in further refining of the County fire and building codes.

These changes have paid off. In the Witch, Harris, Rice and Poomacha fires (October, 2007) 1,047 homes were destroyed in the County (unincorporated) area. There were approximately 8,300 homes in the burn area; therefore the "loss" rate was about 13%. In comparison, there were 1,218 homes in the fire-damaged area that were built under the 2004 County fire and building codes. Of these more recently built (and more fire-resistive) homes, only 24 were destroyed - a "loss" rate of only 2%.
Therefore, homes built under recent codes have a more than six times better chance of survival!

Back in 2007, before that years wildfires, the State of California adopted new fire and building codes, which are based on the 2006 International Fire Code and the 2006 International Building Code, respectively. The latest 2014 adoption of the VCFPD's fire code was in an effort to both coordinate with the latest State codes and to further refine the VCFPD / SD County Consolidated Fire Code and the modifications to the State codes. The most recent County fire and building codes became effective In 2014.
Here are some of the key changes in the County Fire and Building Codes; however, it is only a summary and does not include all issues and all options. When designing a project please also refer to the actual code language.

Fuel Modification Requirements
The fuel (vegetation) modification zone requirements remain unchanged. Consistent with state and county codes the fuel modification area is 100 feet around structures (or to the property line, whichever is nearer to the structure). The area located within 50 feet of the structure must be cleared and planted with fire-resistant plants, and the landscaping must be irrigated. In the area between 50 to 100 feet around structures the native vegetation may remain but must be thinned by 50% and all dead and dying vegetation must be removed. In this area, grass and other vegetation less than 18 inches in height above the ground need not be removed where necessary to stabilize the soil and prevent erosion.

Trees are allowed in the 100 foot fuel modification zone. The crowns of trees shall be a minimum of 10 feet from structures and the crowns of other trees and shall be pruned to remove limbs located less than 6 feet above the ground surface.

Location of Structure on Lot - Setback
Fuel modification (vegetation control) is necessary for the life of the building. Fuel modification on neighboring property is not authorized by this fire code section. The fuel modification zone may not extend beyond the lot being developed. Agreements with neighbors, while desirable, cannot be depended on; ownership and cooperation can change. Therefore, it is critical that the fire code regulate the minimum distance from structure to property line.

Where adequate setback distance is possible, the structure shall be located such that 100 foot fuel modification can be obtained on the property. This setback is particularly important where fuel modification is restricted such as an Open Space Easement or a where fuel modification may not take place (e.g. riparian areas, state or federal land.)
The absolute minimum setback is 30 feet. If the VCFPD Fire Marshal identify the hazard in the area as "minimal" or meeting one of the other exceptions below, they may allow less than 30 feet setback. When parcels are adjacent a national forest, state park or open space preserve, buildings and structures must be located a minimum of 100 feet from the property line adjacent the protected area.

In high hazard areas, exceptions are allowed only if the parcel is too small to accommodate the structure with a 30 foot setback, or the structure is in the interior of a grouping of homes with adequate defensible space designed and maintained on the perimeter of the group.

Building Construction Requirements
Ignition-resistant construction requirements in the VCFPD fire code have changed only slightly. Previously there was two-tier system of ignition-resistant construction: "Basic" for all structures located in the wildland-urban interface area, and "enhanced" requirements for when 100' fuel modification zone around the structure could not be achieved on the parcel. Now there is just one level of ignition-resistant construction for all structures in the wildland-urban interface, regardless of the size of the fuel modification zone.

Note: Greenhouses enclosed with translucent plastic or glass or free-standing open-sided shade covers, sheds, gazebos, and similar accessory structures less than 250 square feet and 30 feet or more from dwellings are exempt from ignition-resistant construction requirements.

o Roofs: Roofs shall have a minimum Class 'A' roof covering. For roof coverings where the profile allows a space between the roof covering and roof sheathing, the spaces shall be firestopped with approved materials to keep out flames and burning embers.
o Exterior walls: Exterior wall surfaces must be non-combustible (stucco, masonry, cement-fiber board, etc.), ignition-resistant, heavy timber or log wall construction. An exception exists where 3/8-inch plywood or 3/4-inch drop siding is allowed when installed over fire-rated drywall.
o Eaves: Eaves, soffits and fascias must comply with requirements for ignition-resistant construction.
o Unenclosed Underfloor Areas: Homes built on stilts or open post and beam construction are not permitted unless the underfloor area is enclosed to the ground with non-combustible construction.
o Vents: All vents (attic, underfloor, combustion air, etc.) must resist the intrusion of flames and burning embers into the structure, or they shall be protected by louvers and corrosion-resistant, noncombustible wire mesh with ¼" openings. Ventilation for attic spaces shall be supplied by roof vents such as dormer vents, ridge vents and low profile roof vents. Gable-end vents are permitted if the vents are located a minimum of 12" below the lowest eave/rake projection. Vents shall not be installed in eaves or other similar exterior overhanging areas, except under the following conditions:
o The vents are constructed to resist the intrusion of flames and burning embers; or,
o When the building is protected by a fuel modification zone at least 100 feet wide, enclosed eaves may have strip vents on the underside of the eave provided the closest edge of the vent opening is at least 12 inches from the exterior wall.
o Windows (glazing): Windows shall be dual-glazed units with a minimum of one tempered pane or shall be glass block units or shall have a fire-resistance rating of 20 minutes. Previously there was the option of windows being dual-glazed or tempered; now it is required that windows be dual-glazed with a minimum of one tempered pane per the California Building Code. Vinyl window frames must have welded corners to prevent glass from falling out with flame impingement and metal reinforcing in the interlock area to prevent the windows from opening or falling unexpectedly. In addition, vinyl windows must have a label showing they are certified to ANSI/AAMA/NWWDA 101/I.S.2-97 structural requirements.
o Skylights: Skylights shall be tempered glass.
o Insulation: Paper faced insulation is not permitted in attics or ventilated spaces due to the potential of embers igniting the paper. Foil-backed or un-faced fiberglass batts and blankets are better suited to conditions of potential fire hazards. Use foil-backed insulation in areas where a vapor barrier is required.
o Roof Gutters: Roof gutters shall be provided with the means to prevent the accumulation of leaves and debris. Previously roof gutters and downspouts were required to be metal; roof gutters and downspouts constructed from vinyl are now acceptable.
o Exterior doors: Exterior doors shall be of approved non-combustible construction or of solid-core wood not less than 1?" thick or have a fire protection rating of not less than 20 minutes.
o Decks, balconies, carports, and patio covers: Decks, balconies, carports, patio covers, and other projections and attachments must be of one of the following:
   Non-combustible construction (such as concrete or metal)
   Fire-retardant treated wood (pressure-treated, listed for exterior use, installed per listing)
   Heavy timber construction (minimum dimensions 3x decking, 6x6 columns, 4x10 or 6x8 beams, 4x8 joists)
   One-hour fire-resistive construction. VCFPD will also accept decks with a non-combustible surface such as ceramic tiles, or a deck surface listed by an approved evaluation service as "one-hour" or as a Class "A" roof covering. All other exposed surfaces must be enclosed with ignition resistant materials such as stucco or cement-fiber material. There is no fire-resistive requirement for handrails and ballisters.
Note: Alternative decking materials may be approved by the fire marshal when demonstrated the materials have passed the performance test requirements of State Fire Marshal standard 12-7A-4.
o Fences and other attachments: The first five feet of fences and other items attached to a structure shall be constructed of non-combustible material, pressure-treated exterior fire-retardant wood or meet the same fire-resistive standards as the exterior walls of the structure. The fire marshal may allow vinyl fences when the construction conforms to guidance documents.

Water Tank Requirements
Water tank requirements have not changed and are required where a project is not within a water district, or not within 1500 feet of a water district line that could be extended for hydrants. The size of the tank required for fire suppression is based on total area of the buildings to be protected. They are:
Up to 1500 sq. ft. = 5,000 gallons
Over 1500 sq. ft. = 10,000 gallons
This general rule applies in most circumstances. An increase in required water supply may be required depending on the size of the structure.

Residential Fire Sprinkler Requirements
Residential fire sprinkler requirements have not been changed and are required in almost all circumstances in the VCFPD areas. Residential fire sprinklers are designed to protect occupants from fires that start inside the dwelling, giving them time to escape. They do prevent house fires from spreading to vegetation. They are not, however, intended to protect the home from wildfire (though there have been a few cases where radiant heat ignition of interior contents was stopped by a sprinkler). Far more people die in fires that start within dwellings than start anyplace else, including wildfires.

No recognized standard exists for fire sprinklers protecting the exterior of a home in a wildfire. Effective exterior building fire protection comes from non-combustible walls and eaves, restricted attic ventilation, class "A" roofs, fire-resistive decks, tempered dual-paned windows, fire-resistive doors - "defensible structures" ...and from properly maintained vegetation - "defensible space.

For a free home and property inspection call the fire marshal.

Mike Shore
Fire Marshal








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