How did some homes survive the Camp Fire?


Nearly everywhere you look in Paradise, California you see the destruction of the Camp Fire.
But scattered in the devastation, you also see a few surviving homes.

Cal Fire Structure Status is a mapping tool on Butte County’s website showing exactly which structures were destroyed, and which survive.
Cal Fire Butte County Captain John Gaddie says fires in the wildland urban interface present particular challenges.

“Once it got into the structures — another new term — possibly we’re going to start hearing is an ‘urban firestorm.’ It went house to house to house. Now there’s multiple factors on why certain houses burned and some didn’t. … But when it got into town — that defensible space, the clearance — of course it played a part.”

In other words, defensible space is more effective stopping vegetation fires from burning homes. Urban firestorms are more powerful.

“We build houses this close together. … Well, that doesn’t help during fire. Because of the radiant heat. If that house catches on fire. That radiant heat almost guarantees it’s going to catch the neighboring house on fire if there’s no mitigating efforts.”

Some homes were saved because people chose not to evacuate.

Gaddie says, “Those people I must reiterate took an absolute risk to stay. But they did. And of course they took some mitigating factors that probably saved their homes. But then you have to look at it on the other end. How many people thought the same thing who didn’t get out?”

In all, more than 80 thousand structures were destroyed, including 10 thousand single family homes.

Gaddie describes the Camp Fire’s Urban Firestorm in Paradise: “Once it got into this community it was going residence to residence. And vegetation fires typically, if they’re burning in heavier fuel without residences, they will spot ahead of themselves. You hear about a half mile or a mile ahead spotting itself. And that’s because of the embers cast from the vegetation. Think of the ember cast with the wind that was coming from all these structures and vehicles and outbuildings and potential people keep in their storage sheds with fuels and flammable liquids. All that ember cast that was flying in the air and launching down neighborhoods that hadn’t been touched yet, starting new fires. Starting new fires at houses.  It spread from house to house so quickly, along with the wind. It just was an urban firestorm.”

His advice?: From planning, to building, maintaining to living… Always be prepared.

“What you have here in Paradise which is a good thing — and I’m not being flippant — a clean slate to start. And I would like to see this community be a shining beacon and a star for all those communities in the western united states if not around the world on how a community can live within the wildland urban interface.”

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