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Thread: Planning and fire safety

  1. #1
    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
    Feb 2007
    Playing at a movie theater near you

    Planning and fire safety

    It is no secret, California is prone to disasters. From earthquakes, to fires, to mudslides, it seems like we have it all. The west in general is prone to fire hazards, especially during the dry season. With sprawling subdivisions encroaching more and more against forests, desserts, and other hot spots that can be disastrous during a long fire season such as the one California, and many other western states are experiencing, the question becomes how do we as planners help prevent or at least aid in the fight to control housing in these fire prone areas, and if we allow to build in these areas, how can our municipalities aid in ensuring construction materials that are contain some sort of flame resistances or at least reduce the effect of embers hoping from one house to another. Can our municipalities enforce greater setback or defensible space? Or do we just simply say the cost is too great to develop in these areas and say the rebuilding process should take place elsewhere. What are your thoughts?
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  2. #2
    Cyburbian otterpop's avatar
    Jul 2003
    Down by Dun Ringill
    Blog entries
    The City of Helena is proposing urban-wildland interface standards in zoning portions of the South Hills, with a propsoed overlay zone. The county is also considering it, but that maybe a ways off.

    This is a big problem here. Most of the areas most susceptible to wildfires are served by under-staffed and under-funded volunteer fire departments, assisted by state and federal wildfire teams.

    It is a sad fact that if a homeowner does not take the necessary steps to: 1) build in safer areas, or 2) use proper setbacks and building standards, more and more rural fire departments are considering just concentrating on getting people out and then it is "burn, baby, burn." It is as it should be. Volunteer fire personnel should not be expected to risk their lives to save a structure that a homeowner has not taken reasonable steps to mitigate fire hazards (fuel mitigation, vegetative setbacks, on-site water, etc.)
    "I am very good at reading women, but I get into trouble for using the Braille method."

    ~ Otterpop ~

  3. #3
    Cyburbian boilerplater's avatar
    Dec 2003
    Heaven or Las Vegas
    On the cover of USAToday is the headline that some 55,000 people have moved into areas burned in the 2003 San Diego fires, all new development. People want to live there badly enough to risk this threat to their homes, apparently. Any efforts to stop building in fire-prone areas are politically unfavorable. There are all kinds of recommendations and practices such as using non-combustible roofing materials, keeping vegetation low on the down-slope side of houses on sloping ground, not using fire-prone plants in landscaping, etc., but ulitmately you have to consider the fact that the suburban single-family home paradigm doesn't allow for the creation of neighborhoods that are easily defensible from fire. I think what would be more defensible would be something like a medieval walled village with a wide swath of low vegetaion around it and very little combustible material outside the homes within.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian Random Traffic Guy's avatar
    Jul 2005
    Lone Star State
    Designing for fire protection is very wise (my preferred - Monolithic Dome homes), but it should be spurred by the insurance industry. Bad designs or bad locations should be expensive or uninsurable. Having the government bail everyone out, as looks like will happen in CA, does nothing but support more of the same stupid behavior. Even if I could get wildfire insurance, why should I if the taxpayers will take the hit?

  5. #5
    Jul 2007
    Tullinge Sweden

    Insurance again

    Do mortgage financiers in California require home insurance against floods, fires and other hazards?

    Here, even any room in the house that has high water damage potential ( mainly bathrooms) must have special prevntative construction mechanisms in place to reduce risk. And we have special rules for fireplaces and chimneys, including vents over stoves. While we have these strict rules for home construction the insurance companies are not very noisey when it comes to building in flood plains or forest areas with potential for fire damage.

    In any country where money, finance, and/or economics seem to rule, it is a real irony if insurance companies don't play a bigger role where there are known hazards.

  6. #6
    Aug 2005
    Funky Town, CO.
    After the hurricanes of 2005 the insurance companies really started to look at their risks along the U.S. coasts where future storms are expected. Hazard insurance rates have jumped significantly in Florida due to higher costs imposed by the re-insurance industry based in Europe. It will be interesting to see if the same reassessment occurs in the wildland/urban interface where these wildfires cause the most property damage. Planners in these areas might be able to look to the insurance companies for support in crafting mitigation measures.

  7. #7
    Jan 2005
    Carlsbad, CA

    Fire Discussion

    Well being from San Diego I think I can add to this thread. First off, I don't think as planners there is much we can do to prevent wildfires from burning homes and property if people choose to live in areas that are prone to such disasters. The only thing we can do is to not allow certain types of construction materials that adds fuel to the fire. People make that choice to live in the outer suburbs next to large open spaces of land. There is a risk you take in doing that just the same way there is a risk to living in a low elevation flood-prone area. Any more types of restrictions you place on developers and you will just hear an outcry from them. There are already enough environmental regulations as it is. It is just something you have to deal with living in this part of the country.

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