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A Step Toward Fire Safety

The city of Los Angeles is about to ban wood roofs on new homes. It is a sensible move, overdue for a region with what amounts to an annual fire season. The move may cost jobs in the Pacific Northwest and Canada, but failing to move could cost lives and homes in dry Southern California.

The wood-shake and-shingle industry insists that its products, when chemically treated, resist fire. The Los Angeles Fire Department is not convinced. It argues that the chemical treatment loses its resistance to fire over time, leaving the roofs dangerously vulnerable to falling sparks. Department officials say that more than 900 homes in Los Angeles have been destroyed or damaged in fires involving wood-shingle roofs since 1961.

Wood roofs are attractive, but hazardous in this dry climate. Once the City Council action becomes final, as we hope it will, builders must use materials other than wood on new homes, new roofs or repairs involving more than 10% of a roof.

California has a checkered pattern of dealing with this fire risk. San Clemente is the only California city that completely bans wood roofs. Los Angeles County bans all wood roofs in fire-prone Malibu and is considering extending its requirement that wood roofs in unincorporated hillside regions be treated with a fire-retardant. In Orange County’s unincorporated areas, wood roofs must be fire-retardant. That’s also the law in Anaheim, Santa Ana and Newport Beach, while Orange requires fire-retardant wood roofs in areas close to brushland. A fire Wednesday in Orange occurred at a home where a treated wood-shake roof had been installed recently. Any new wood roofs in the city of San Diego and in the unincorporated areas of San Diego County must be fire-retardant.

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A ban on wood roofs would move Los Angeles one step closer to fuller fire protection for its people. They deserve nothing less.


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