Wildfires: Non-Combustible Building Materials and Pre-Disaster Mitigation

What has happened in California is an unimaginable tragedy, and it is not easy to fathom why. Governor Jerry Brown described the calamity recently as the “new-abnormal,” and invoked climate change as a culprit. Whatever the reasons, transformative change in the way houses are constructed in wildfire prone areas is long past due.

Although I don’t claim to be an expert in fire prevention, it is logical that we reconsider the MATERIALS used to build houses. We need to consider building non-flammable houses that don’t contribute fuel and stand a chance of surviving. This, of course, is called pre-disaster mitigation. The Institute of Building Sciences, working with FEMA and HUD, has found that $1 spent on mitigation saves $6 in future disaster costs, and would save many lives.

HabiTek’s Adapt-1 beta project is nearly all steel and concrete construction. While not done to avoid wildfires, which are rare on the Baja Peninsula, the Adapt-1 project points in a positive direction. By adding common steel roofing, and by installing metal shutters at the windows and door openings, a version of the Adapt-1 approach would eliminate any role in adding fuel to the fire, and would stand a good chance of surviving. And because our steel frameworks are pre-engineered to resist earthquakes, which are also part of California’s landscape, a HabiTek house makes even more sense. The time to mitigate is now.