Of Treacherous Roofs . . .

Too many homes, too many acres of brushland, too many dreams have already gone up in smoke this week, and too many lives have been taken. More tragedy can be prevented on this Fourth of July if people will leave fireworks, even small sparklers, to the public displays where safety is a paramount concern. That is a preventive measure. It is one lesson learned from past tragedies in Southern California. The fires this week have underscored another key element in public safety: There is good reason for tough roofing and brush-clearance laws.

Roofing your home with wood is, as one fire official put it, like putting a pile of kindling on top of your house. The message is clear: Local authorities who do not require at least minimal fire protection for their citizens, even in supposedly low-risk areas, are derelict in their duty.

Los Angeles City law flatly requires roofs with some degree of fire retardance, and allows wood-shake roofing only when it has a metal layer underneath and has been treated to increase its resistance to heat. Los Angeles County bans wood roofs in new construction or major remodeling only in Malibu south of the Ventura Freeway. It has no particular safety requirements for roofs in flatlands. Orange County bans untreated wood roofs on new homes in unincorporated areas, as do several cities in the county. San Diego City and County both allow wood shakes and shingles on new housing only if the wood is treated to make it fire-resistant.

In remodeling or building a new home, you could well heed what happened in Baldwin Hills, in Los Angeles. Several homes with rock roofs survived. One Fire Department official said that some homes with good fire-retardant roofs burned because of the intensity of the firestorm around them. Had more roofs in Baldwin Hills been safer, the blaze might have spread more slowly, giving firefighters a chance to save more houses, he added.

As for the wisdom of brush-clearing ordinances, there is this report from a blaze earlier this week: A woman was able to douse a small fire and prevent the loss of her home because she had cleared the brush on her property beyond even the requirement of the law.

All this has been said before. But it somehow has more bite when the hot winds blow.

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