Cooperative Extension San Joaquin County
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Posts Tagged: Yana Valachovic

What can we learn from the 14,000 homes lost during the Camp Fire?

Remnants of a burned trailer park in Paradise after the Camp Fire.

Shades of brown and grey cast over bricks, cement, remnants of metal roofs and steel beams from manufactured and modular homes, collapsed stucco walls, BBQs, shells of washers and driers, along with an occasional tea pot — that is what you can see in and amongst living, but singed Ponderosa pine and California black oak trees where the Camp Fire burned. How did California's most deadly fire happen and what might be done differently to ensure a better outcome? These are difficult questions that California will wrestle with for a long time to come.

Surviving home with recently upgraded roofing, vents and combustible materials separated from the house. Every home surrounding this house was lost to the Camp Fire.

Last week I was able to tour some of the burned area in Paradise and Magalia to evaluate why some homes survived and others did not. This gave me a chance to look at homes that survived largely on their material selection, design details, the owner's maintenance efforts, and not necessarily with the aid of a fire crew or resident that stayed. Many of the buildings that were burned were lost on the first day or two of the fire while emergency response was focused on evacuating the communities. It will take months to make sense of this mess and tragedy, but during my tour some conditions rang true to me.

A well-maintained forested area in Paradise that had minimal tree mortality from the Camp Fire.

Wildfire is not uniform

Not all fires are the same and not all houses experience the same type of fire. When you are looking at home losses and survivors, keep in mind that each home may not have had the same fire exposure. Some homes experienced significant ember exposure, while others ignited because their neighbor's home succumbed to fire and the heat of their neighbor's house caught their house on fire, while others were protected from the wind and its deadly embers. Paradise and Magalia have blocks and blocks of nothing but foundations, but amongst these bleak conditions are a few intact or partially damaged homes that have a story to tell.

California building code

A homeowner holds a foundation vent found in the rubble of her home. Her house, built before the 2008 construction standards, had ¼-inch mesh screen that may have allowed embers to enter her home.
We saw homes that survived that had upgraded attic and foundation vents that meet the California building code for construction in wildfire prone areas. Some of these houses also included some extra efforts where vegetation and combustible mulch was virtually eliminated in the area immediately adjacent to the home. Our inspection team included UC's Dr. Steve Quarles, a national expert in fire-safe construction, who interpreted this to mean that meeting the 2008 Chapter 7 A standards, coupled with the enhanced defensible space, likely made the difference to ward off the assault of the ember-driven Camp Fire. We found evidence that burned homes in Paradise had ¼” mesh foundation and under-eave vent screens. Research has shown that these larger size screens let embers penetrate the attic and ignite the house from within. The 2008 California building code standards specify screen mesh size between 1/8” and 1/16”-inch, or vents that demonstrate their ability to resist embers and flames.

Wood mulch and landscape plants

Our tour also confirmed that landscaping plants and wood mulch placed right next to the house creates vulnerability. While looking at the rubble of a home, it can be difficult to tell what happened; however, we saw several surviving houses with broken glass or otherwise damaged dual-pane windows that experienced heat exposures sufficient to crack glass in the windows, but the home still survived during these first two days when fire crews were rightly focused on community evacuation and not structure protection. For the houses that did not survive, we can interpret that in addition to the vulnerabilities in vents or a roof, heat can easily break glass in windows, especially if those windows are single pane, and can likely created a pathway for fire to enter the houses.

This house met new construction standards. Several windows were broken from the heat of the fire. It likely would not have been damaged if there had been a 5-foot zone around the home that did not contain combustible plants or other materials.

Home placement makes a difference

A home at the top of a canyon or gulch can easily be overwhelmed by wildfire by taking on additional heat as the fire approaches and being blasted with embers. This is not a new concept, but the homes in the broader Paradise region were especially vulnerable when they were located above these gulches and canyons. Enhanced vegetation management is highly recommended that includes a 5-foot non-combustible zone immediately adjacent to the home.

Charred remnants called “embers” found in a lawn were drivers of the Camp Fire. The large size suggests that these embers were generated from burning buildings, not from vegetation.
Our team, which also included Dr. Eric Knapp from the USDA Forest Service Pacific Southwest Research Station, has been able to do a quick analysis of home losses by year of construction in Paradise. This cursory analysis shows that many homes built after the 2008 wildfire standards were adopted were lost during this fire, however, without knowing the specific details of each home (e.g., maintenance practices, proximity to other building, etc.), these statistics can be misleading. We will continue to work through the available data to try to look for patterns, however, in the meantime, it seems clear to me that the new construction standards can reduce the probability of ember intrusion and may have helped for some homes in Paradise. This week a new study reported that complying with these standards was not considerably more expensive. Additionally, the codes that help guide construction in California's wildfire-prone areas are dynamic and will be informed by the 2017 and 2018 wildfire seasons.

For me, thinking about Paradise in the abstraction was easy. Visiting it was different. The name says it all. After my visit I could understand why someone would choose Paradise or Magalia; the views are awesome, the air is clear, the forest and woodlands are amazing. I can only imagine that the community was (almost) perfect. Rebuilding a more resilient community will take considerable thought, effort, and some radical new ideas.

 

 

Posted on Friday, December 21, 2018 at 7:42 PM
  • Author: Yana Valachovic
Tags: wildfire (36), Yana Valachovic (7)

UC ANR scientists contribute to California’s Fourth Climate Change Assessment

The California Natural Resources Agency released California's Fourth Climate Change Assessment today (Monday, Aug. 27), at http://www.ClimateAssessment.ca.govUC Agriculture and Natural Resources scientists contributed substantially to the report.

The Fourth Assessment is broken down into nine technical reports on the following topics:

  • Agriculture 
  • Biodiversity and habitat 
  • Energy 
  • Forests and wildlife 
  • Governance 
  • Ocean and coast 
  • Projects, datasets and tools 
  • Public health 
  • Water 

The technical reports were distilled into nine regional reports and three community reports that support climate action by providing an overview of climate-related risks and adaptation strategies tailored to specific regions and themes.

The regional reports cover:

  • North Coast Region 
  • Sacramento Valley Region 
  • San Francisco Bay Area Region 
  • Sierra Nevada Region 
  • San Joaquin Valley Region 
  • Central Coast Region 
  • Los Angeles Region 
  • Inland South Region 
  • San Diego Region 

The community reports focus on:

  • The ocean and coast 
  • Tribal communities 
  • Climate justice 

All research contributing to the Fourth Assessment was peer-reviewed.

UC Cooperative Extension ecosystem sciences specialist Ted Grantham – who works in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management at UC Berkeley – is the lead author of the 80-page North Coast Region Report.  Among the public events surrounding the release of the Fourth Assessment is the California Adaptation Forum, Aug. 27-29 in Sacramento. For more information, see http://www.californiaadaptationforum.org/. Grantham is a speaker at the forum.

Other UC ANR authors of the North Coast Region Report are:

  • Lenya Quinn-Davidson, UC Cooperative Extension area fire advisor for Humboldt, Siskiyou, Trinity and Mendocino counties 
  • Glenn McGourty, UC Cooperative Extension viticulture and plant science advisor in Mendocino and Lake counties 
  • Jeff Stackhouse, UC Cooperative Extension livestock and natural resources advisor for Humboldt and Del Norte counties 
  • Yana Valachovic, UC Cooperative Extension forest advisor for Humboldt and Del Norte counties

UC Cooperative Extension fire specialist Max Moritz contributed to sections of the main report on Forest Health and Wildfire and to the San Francisco Bay Area Report

UC ANR lead authors of technical reports were:

  • Economic and Environmental Implications of California Crop and Livestock Adaptations to Climate ChangeDaniel Sumner, director of UC ANR's Agricultural Issues Center 

  • Climate-wise Landscape Connectivity: Why, How and What NextAdina Merenlander, UC Cooperative Extension specialist 

  • Visualizing Climate-Related Risks to the Natural Gas System Using Cal-AdaptMaggi Kelly, UC Cooperative Extension specialist 
Dan Stark, staff research associate  for Humboldt and Del Norte counties, contributed to the pest section of Fuel Treatment for Forest Resilience and Climate Mitigation: A Critical Review for Coniferous Forests of California.
Posted on Monday, August 27, 2018 at 3:23 PM
  • Author: Jeannette Warnert
Focus Area Tags: Environment

Houses likely burned from the inside out, says UCCE forest advisor

Fire damage from the 1991 Oakland Hills fire. Buildings can burn quickly if embers get inside and fall on flammable materials.

Preventing embers from getting inside may save homes

Photos and video of the Northern California communities that have been hit by wildfires this week show buildings reduced to ash. How could so many homes and businesses burn so quickly in Wine Country fires? Many houses that burned to the ground in the Northern California fires likely burned from the inside out, says Yana Valachovic, UC Cooperative Extension forest advisor for Humboldt and Del Norte counties.

Red hot embers carried on the wind can enter the attic via the venting. “In the case of the wind-driven fires on October 8, these fires created ember storms that blasted little coals into everything in their pathway,” Valachovic said. These embers also create small spot fires near the home that fuel new sources of embers.

Weather played a large role in these fires and generated a fire storm of embers that ignited grass, shrubs, trees and anything in its path. “While the landscape can be the fuse, the homes really can be the most burnable part of the landscape,” Valachovic said. “These embers likely lodged in the small spaces and openings of homes and buildings. A common location is for the embers to enter via attic venting or HVAC systems distributing little fires into the buildings.

“Embers also landed on receptive leaves, outside furniture, and other flammable materials outside the buildings that created fires adjacent to the buildings. Once enough buildings were engulfed in fire, the radiant heat of each building fire led to exposures on the neighboring buildings, creating a house-to-house burn environment.”

Embers carried on the wind can ignite dry plant material like pine needles and create more embers that may enter homes through vents.

Residents can reduce the risk of embers setting their house on fire by removing dry plants around the structure.

“These fires remind us that everyone in California could help the fire situation by managing the vegetation, leaves in the gutters and decks, newspaper piles, brooms and other flammable sources near to their houses now before they get the evacuation call,” Valachovic said. “If you are likely to have to evacuate soon, temporarily covering or sealing up the vents with metal tape or plywood can help harden your home to an ember storm.”

Steve Quarles, UC Cooperative Extension advisor emeritus, who spent his career studying fire behavior on building materials and around homes, created an online Homeowner's Wildfire Mitigation Guide at http://ucanr.edu/sites/Wildfire. Quarles, who now does research for the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety, demonstrates how embers can ignite and quickly engulf a house in flames in a video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IvbNOPSYyss. After the 3-minute mark, video shows embers drifting up and flying through a screened vent into the house, where they could ignite combustible materials in the attic resulting in fire starting on the inside of the home.

“If you have time to prepare your home, use the wildfire last-minute check list at http://disastersafety.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/IBHS-Wildfire-Last-Minute-Checklist.pdf,” Valachovic said.

Valachovic has co-authored publications in home survival in wildfire prone areas http://anrcatalog.ucanr.edu/pdf/8393.pdf and how landscape plants near homes can create more vulnerability to wildfire http://anrcatalog.ucanr.edu/pdf/8228.pdf.

Once these fires are extinguished, a more detailed analysis will be possible.

“Past wildfire events have shown that this is the common way homes in the wildland urban interface (WUI) burn, and this scenario was likely translated to the urban environment,” she said.  

Posted on Friday, October 13, 2017 at 10:54 PM
Tags: wildfire (36), Yana Valachovic (7)

Community invited to explore redwood issues in Eureka Sept 13-15

Foresters, landowners, managers, community and conservation groups, land trustees, scientists and policymakers will meet Sept. 13 to 15 in Eureka for the 2016 Coast Redwood Science Symposium.

The symposium, which first convened in Humboldt County in 1996, will feature 70 speakers, 25 poster presentations and three field trips to explore the redwood forests of the North Coast.

“The general public may be interested in attending this conference because it provides a look at the current state of redwood forest management,” said Yana Valachovic, University of California Cooperative Extension forest advisor for Humboldt and Del Norte counties. “This symposium will allow attendees to learn more about how forests are managed today and see the tremendous changes in both private and public land management.”

From Brookings, Ore., to Big Sur, redwoods grow in a variety of habitats and conditions. On the field trips, participants will get to see both conservation and industrial aspects of old growth and timber forests.

One tour will visit the City of Arcata Community Forest. Community members use the actively managed forest on a daily basis.

A lot can be learned from both private and public land-management strategies and it is critical that the policies and strategies guiding use and management within the redwood region be reviewed and updated based on objective, scientific information, said Valachovic.

“We will discuss changes in milling, manufacturing and energy-producing facilities within the redwood range,” said Valachovic.  “Over the last 20 years, there has been a great reduction in these facilities and this comes with a cost because the same infrastructure that supports lumber manufacturing also supports restoration activities.”

In the wake of several catastrophic wildfires this summer, it has been widely publicized that drought, disease and insects have killed more than 66 million trees in California. One place to dispose of dead trees is biomass power plants, which burn low-value forest materials to generate energy for homes and businesses. At the symposium, participants will discuss the impact of recent closures of bioenergy or biomass power plants

When Californians buy redwood building products, the money circulates locally and provides an economic incentive to steward and conserve local forests, says Valachovic.

On Wednesday, Sept. 14, three full-day tours are offered:

  • North Tour. Redwood National and State Parks and Green Diamond Resource Company will highlight redwood thinning practices. The tour will travel north to the Orick area of Redwood National and State Parks to look at restoration forestry practices designed to enhance structural diversity of younger even-aged forests. The afternoon will be spent walking in the Korbel area, viewing Green Diamond's commercial thinning of third-growth forests and wildlife management strategies in managed landscapes.
  • Redwood is widely known for its durability and decay resistance.
    Humboldt Bay Tour.  The City of Arcata, the County of Humboldt, and several private landowners will show participants modern conservation and community forestry efforts.  The tour will visit the City of Arcata Community Forest — the oldest community forest in California — where there is active forest management and community members use an extensive trail system through managed stands on a daily basis. The tour will also visit the newly established McKay Community Forest near Eureka and several private properties that practice innovative land management. This tour will showcase uneven-aged redwood silviculture, funding for conservation activities and techniques to maintain social license within a community, and discuss the benefits and liabilities of managing bigger and older trees.
  • South Tour. The tour with Humboldt Redwood Company looks into conservation planning on industrial timberland. In the historic lumber town of Scotia, participants will tour a mill and visit Humboldt Redwood Company's 40,000 gallon freshwater aquarium. In the afternoon, the tour will hear about active forest management and habitat conservation strategies for the protection of endangered species such as the marbled murrelet, northern spotted owl, and coho, chinook and steelhead salmon.

“This symposium will build on the scientific underpinnings from the first redwood symposium held in Arcata in 1996 and the subsequent 2004 symposium in Rohnert Park, and the 2011 symposium in Santa Cruz,” said Valachovic. “Bringing the symposium back to Humboldt is a great homecoming. Much has changed over the last 20 years.”

The 2016 Coast Redwood Science Symposium, sponsored by UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, will be held at the Red Lion Inn in Eureka. For more information or to register, visit http://ucanr.edu/sites/Redwood2016.

Posted on Saturday, September 3, 2016 at 1:50 PM

Five-foot zone free of plants can help rural homes’ fire survival

A foothill dwelling landscaped with a five-foot non-combustible zone. The building is also equipped with an extra large rain barrell that collects water during storms for irrigating plants.
California law requires homeowners in wildfire-prone areas to create 100 feet of defensible space around their dwellings. UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) experts suggest going a bit farther by creating a five-foot buffer immediately surrounding the home completely devoid of plants and anything that can burn.

Few people think about creating the non-combustible zone, said UC ANR Cooperative Extension advisor Yana Valachovic, because they are so accustomed to foundation plantings. “Plants are used to anchor the house visually on the landscape. Without them, a house can look naked,” Valachovic said.

But the non-combustible space adjoining the house may be the difference between losing it and all the contents to a wildfire versus returning to the property with the home unscathed. This extra precaution can be important, Valachovic explains, because, “embers from a distant wildfire can land on or adjacent to your house and ignite combustible items.”

In the five-foot non-combustible zone, even such common items as firewood, deck furniture, a wooden ladder, brooms and other wooden tools should be absent during the fire season.

Rock mulch, decorative stone “hardscape,” and concrete paths can be aesthetically pleasing alternatives.

“We have to simplify our landscapes and accept less vegetation to improve fire safety,” Valachovic said.

UC Agriculture and Natural Resources is involved in fire research and education statewide, helping enhance understanding of fire's role in human communities and natural areas. A range of UC ANR publications and online tools address wildfire risk, fuels impacts of forest diseases and home wildfire mitigation. UC ANR is part of the California Fire Science Consortium, a network of fire science researchers, managers, and outreach specialists tasked with improving the availability and understanding of fire science and management knowledge.

Valachovic, the UC ANR forestry advisor in Humboldt and Del Norte counties, recently hosted a webinar (recording available online) for homeowners in areas at wildfire risk, during which she said a five-foot non-combustible zone around the home increases the likelihood of home fire survival and provides several additional benefits to rural homeowners.

“If you have five feet of non-combustible area immediately next to the house, you don't have to cut back plants for siding maintenance and there's ample space for placement of a ladder to clean the gutters,” she said. “The open space also provides access for cleaning up any accumulation of pine needles and leaf litter, also a significant fire risk.”

Ten years ago, California extended the defensible space rule from 30 feet to 100. The area within 30 feet of the home should be maintained in a way authorities call “lean, green and clean.” Dry grass, leaves, brush and dead wood should be cleared. Open areas should be left between islands of vegetation in the 30-foot-zone to disrupt the path of a fire to the home. Trees within six feet of the house should be cut back or removed entirely.

Beyond 30 feet, in the extended 100-foot reduced fuel zone, fire officials ask that landowners remove dead wood, debris and low tree branches. Small trees and plants growing under trees should be removed, as they act as ladders giving ground fires access to tree crowns.

Valachovic said “fire resistant” plants can be characterized as having low growth, open structures, not holding on to dead leaves and having leaves with high moisture content. But she said no vegetation is truly fire safe.

“Landscape maintenance is essential,” Valachovic said. “All plants can burn under the right conditions.”

An initiative to maintain and enhance healthy families and communities is part of the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources Strategic Vision 2025.

Posted on Wednesday, March 18, 2015 at 6:53 AM
Tags: wildfire (36), Yana Valachovic (7)

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