California Fire and WHAT is Burning

I’m wondering what causes this strange pattern in the aftermath of a neighborhood being burnt out. This New York Times Picture shows a neighborhood with nearly all the houses burnt to the ground, but the surrounding trees and even the lawns appear to be completely unharmed!! Are we building our houses so that they are more susceptible to fire than even the surrounding flora? Could we avoid situations like this by simply building houses better?

I wonder what type of trees those are ? They can’t be Eucalyptus can they ? Those are supposed to be flammable as hell !

Full-size living trees don’t burn easily. They, like most living things, have a large amount of water in their make-up. It takes severe drought conditions and a lot of heat to get a full-grown tree to turn into a torch. The firestom conditions in the Mountain West provide this. Another factor is the presence or absence of dead vegetable matter to act as “kindling” to get the tree to burn.

What I think I see looking at that pic is a pattern of fire working down from the end of the cul-de-sac and then catching from house to house.

The houses, being made out of dead trees, burn more easily than the nearby living trees. But if you look closely, you see that the trees and bushes next to the houses are burned.

Those are definately Eucalyptus trees.

If you’re interested in the “where”, you might look at this page: http://activefiremaps.fs.fed.us/large_fire/large.php#

Access to detailed maps of the burning and burned areas.

From the picture, it looks as if the road runs along the top of a ridge, and fires typically prefer to burn up a slope rather than down. The wind may have been blowing along the ridge, too, rather than across it.

Very likely the small surviving trees in the yards, as well as the big eucalypti in back, have their roots in nice water provided by the homeowners for their landscaping, and aren’t tinder-dry as so much of the wilder lands are.

The smaller trees and major areas on the big ones may look green now, but they got hotly roasted, and next week you will see dead leaves, branches, and even dead trees.

Still it is a strange pattern.

A number of houses catch when burning embers blow onto their roofs. In the big Berkeley/Oakland Hills fire some years back, the ones with Spanish tile roofs often survived.

I wonder if this particular neighborhood might have fared better if they all had Spanish tile roofs … Naturally, those houses that were caught in a full conflagration where EVERYTHING around them burned wouldn’t be saved, but maybe THESE houses might have been saved …

Then again, maybe not. Fire is a capricious beast.

You’re absolutely right. Most houses that are lost to wildfires are lost because of firebrands/embers landing on a combustible roof. cite

If you live in a wildland or urban interface area and you haven’t fireproofed your home do it now! Call you local fire agency or check out Firewise

St. Urho
EMT/Firefighter