Every year, there are between 2,000 and 3,000 wildfires in South Carolina serious enough to call out the State Forestry Commission to fight them. And 38 states are affected by wildfires. So the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety, or IBHS, ran a demonstration Tuesday showing exactly what happens to a home in a wildfire, and what can be done to prevent or lessen the damage.
It's not the actual wildfire that usually burns down homes, it's wind-blown embers that land on a roof or ignite wood or vegetation around the home.
The IBHS facility in rural Chester County has 105 giant fans, which can generate hurricane-force winds. For this demonstration, the test facility also has machines that generate burning embers, which the fans then blow onto a full-size demonstration house.
The burning embers quickly caught pine straw and mulch at the base of the house on fire, which then ignited wooden siding.
Four U.S. Congressmen witnessed the demonstration, as they look for ways to give states incentives to make building codes stronger. Rep. Lou Barletta, R-PA, is working on a FEMA reauthorization bill. "We're here to learn what we can do to not only save lives but also reduce the federal costs of disasters," he said after the demonstration.
Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-SC Dist. 5, represents the area where the IBHS facility is located. He's also a home builder, and he said the demonstration reminded him of things that are easy for any homeowner to overlook.
"Clean your gutters. Get the stuff away from around the base of your house. Don't keep your gasoline under your back deck. These things that may seem common sense after the fact, but it never occurred to me that pine straw up against the side of my house might make my house more susceptible to fire," he said.
Even the shape of a house can affect its fire safety. The demonstration house had a corner that jutted in. The house is on a giant turntable, which duplicates the shifting winds of a real wildfire. Once the fire got into that corner and the wind shifted, it created a vortex of fire that would have caught the entire house on fire. But firefighters put out the fire at that point, because IBHS is planning to use that house for more testing later.
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