A Fire Prevention Option

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After last year’s Carr Fire, I took a hard look at our vulnerability to fire out here in the urban-wildland interface.

I have been working for many years on our defensible space, but November saw two more cords of stacked wood, along with three large burn piles. I had thoughts of putting a sprinkler system on the roof, but the asphalt shingles up there have a lot more fire resistance than our wood-shingle walls. Could I protect those walls from wind-blown embers, and what if we were not at home?

Firefighter battles Carr Fire in a Redding subdivision. Photo by Mike Daly.

With some help from Aamigo Supply and $335, we now have an answer for those questions. Using the RainBird ESP-TM2 Controller, our cell phone can activate a mist system hung under the eaves of our house and pumphouse. We have 80 fine spray misters that are placed about 30 inches apart, and they offer pretty good coverage on the walls and also on the ignition zone (the five feet closest to the house).

One limitation is that we are on a well which has a capacity of 12 gallons/minute. The folks at Aamigo were able to calculate the projected flow rate of the 80 misters, and our well is able to keep up with the demand. If you are on city or district water, this would not be an issue.

I should mention that we had some 5/8” drip irrigation tubing lying around which was recycled for this project, and also that I did the installation myself. I splurged ($80) on a second controller for the pumphouse, rather than trench and protect wire for about 60 feet. I’m just including some of these numbers to give some idea of what such a system would cost.

Our next challenge is that all of this is dependent on PG&E electricity, which may be unavailable at precisely the time this system needs it. If we can make it through this summer, I have some ideas about adapting our solar power to meet the need. In the meantime, our new mist system is offering a bit more peace of mind than we had last summer.

Tom O'Mara
Tom O’Mara is a volunteer Civil Rights Advocate for the Redding Police Department.
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11 Responses

  1. Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

    We live in a rural area and have a well. When the power is out; so is the well pump. A solar array would seem to be the answer, but how fireproof is a solar array in a firestorm? Defensible space is the only answer, I guess.

    • Tom O'Mara Tom O'Mara says:

      It all definitely starts with defensible space (like alternative energy starts with conservation). I think the solar array itself offers decent fire resistance – just the structure it’s on that is in question. Hoping with mist system will help with that.

  2. Avatar Bruce Vojtecky says:

    I lived in Anderson on a well and when the power was out we had no water, we would bucket the water out of the hot tub to flush toilets.

  3. Adrienne Jacoby Adrienne Jacoby says:

    I’m tired of worrying about fire danger so maybe I should move back to the Southeast where it’s always green . . . . and worry about hurricanes and tornados. Or maybe move to the plaines of Montana. . . . and put up with blizzards. Or maybe even move into a cave, , , , but the t.v. reception is awful. Okay, maybe, humans weren’t meant to live on this Earth. Hmmmm. . . I wonder which distant plant we came from and how to get back there.
    As some comedian once posited: “It’s always something!”
    On a serious note: (it’s the one between A# and Bb) Good on you, Tim, and good ol’ ‘merican ingenuity!!

    • Avatar Peggy Elwood says:

      You are so right…no perfect place to live. So Cal near the beach was perfect in the 40s – 60s but not now..way too many people and too much traffic. If this summer is as hard as last summer here may have to figure something out!

      • Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

        You’re so right, Peggy. When my Mother used to take us to Los Angeles for the Ice Capades and Ice Follies and to Laguna Beach to visit relatives in the ’40’s and ’50’s, the whole area was paradise. Fire is terrifying, but for the most part, there is enough forewarning to be safe. Not to be Pollyanna, but if one’s home is destroyed by fire, it’s over. However, with a flood, a home is devastated then must be cleaned up to make it habitable. Our local Fire Chief called a flood “the gift that keeps on giving.”

  4. Avatar Carla DeLauder says:

    Long ramble, probably because I’m hungry but too hot to move.

    I’m from Ohio and got to witness the recent tornado cloud here in Shasta County from our front porch. And now that I’ve decided to relocate to Ohio, what happens? An earthquake there. That’s worse than Murphy’s law.

    Exterior sprinklers and misters do an excellent job protecting homes from fires. I think the building code requires them only for home interiors, though, not exteriors. It’s kind of like mattresses and fire retardant. It’s intrusive, arguably ineffective, and probably more about money and insurance companies than saving lives.

    For a really low cost sprinkler setup, attach sprinkler heads to either end off your roof and with a garden hose. The former owners of our home did this and would leave the hoses up during fire season. We had a fire on our road three weeks after we moved here, which was late October, and decided to never take down the hoses. But they’re like dangling snakes and not very pretty.

    The worry with the garden hose method is embers. We bought fancy Never Kink hoses this year to replace the old fashioned green ones I killed during a freeze (a dummy maneuver involving a hose full of water). The first day we used them, an ember from the burn pile burned a hole and sprouted a huge leak. This happened to both new hoses.

    We now have black rubber Craftsmen hoses. They go limp as a wet noodle in the heat, but they seem to handle our high water pressure just fine (the new ones swelled up), and no leaks from the burn piles.

    So now I’m trying to figure out an under the eaves system, plumbed with pipe. We have cedar siding, so if heat from a fire damages the exposed PVC, it’ll likely be from the house burning, not because the PVC succumbed first. While I’m figuring out a mounted system, I’m going to replace the roof sprinklers with better models (still really low cost), attach new hoses, and plumb a new water line to the back of the property so we can install a sprinkler system back there.

    I’m just kind of disappointed in myself with all the things I haven’t done yet. I feel almost comatose from the shell shock of what we all went through. We had to take out a claim for the interior and exterior smoke damage. The house has been sanded down to remove the thick, furry layer of old stain, but I haven’t re-stained yet. I keep thinking why bother? It’s going to happen again, and this time maybe we’ll lose our home.

    I don’t care about our home. Fire would cure the termite problem. It’s my animals I’m worried about. I have more than I did last year from the several I trapped from the Carr Fire. I’ve got everything planned out this time, all supplies ordered. But the anxiety has been immobilizing for me, probably for others, too.

    Anyway, good writeup on your new misting system. It’s motivated me to finally get at least that part done, and it’s a big one. I read that the 98 homes in one area that had exterior house sprinklers all survived a fire, while most of the other homes were destroyed. We don’t have smartphones, so we won’t be able to remotely trigger the sprinkler system. Maybe this and security monitoring is why we should finally get one. I also have a growing interest in selfies.

    Thanks for this post and also the short video.

    • Tom O'Mara Tom O'Mara says:

      Hoping this provided some good motivation. I think we are all trying to cope with the memories of last summer as we try to face the upcoming one. . .


  5. Joanne Snyder Joanne Snyder says:

    A friend’s house didn’t burn in the Jone’s fire years ago because they had a sprinkler on the roof and the water wasn’t cut off during the fire. A neighbor in Shasta saved his home by first, having a bigger pipe system for water delivery and having a good fire hose. He was not on a well, so he didn’t lose water when we lost electricity. Defensible implies that there will be someone to fight a fire on a property that has been certified by CDF as defensible. Unfortunately, in the 12 hours we stayed after being evacuated, there were no fire fighters, fire trucks or helicopters along Swasey Drive. I really like your idea. It might be worth getting a generator to run the well pump should you lose power. The neighbor who saved his house in the Carr fire reported that the porch was what caught fire on his home, so include things like porches or sheds in your plan.

  6. Thanks, Tom, for this important, timely article. You’ve prompted us to think about fire – and unpleasant thought, but a grim realty. You’re my inspiration!

  7. Avatar Bruce Vojtecky says:

    No matter where you live it seems there is always something to prepare for. When I lived in Anderson it was prepare for wildfires. When I moved to Nebraska and Wyoming it was to prepare for tornados. Now I live in Phoenix and it is prepare for monsoons.