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Blowing Smoke

President's Message

By David Marshall

As I write this, San Diego City and county residents are in the early stages of recovery from the worst wildfires in California history. In addition to the catastrophic loss of lives, homes and wilderness, our county lost several cultural and historic buildings. Cuyamaca Rancho State Park was the hardest hit with the loss of many unique historic structures, including the Dyar House. We were all reminded that, next to demolition, fire destroys more buildings than any other single cause. Protecting our valued buildings from the ravages of fire cannot be ignored.

While the cleanup continues, people are looking for answers and politicians are looking to pass the blame. One of the popular knee-jerk reactions is to blame wood shingle roofing - as if shingles were the root cause of the fires. Yes, untreated wood shingles are extremely combustible and are not as fire resistant as clay tiles and asphalt shingles. However, the vast majority of homes that were lost in the fire had tile and asphalt roofs.

One woman who lost her home in Scripps Ranch was quoted as saying, "I thought our house would be safe because we had a tile roof." The myth that the type of roofing will determine if a building survives a fire continues to be perpetuated by those looking for simple answers. The fact is that wood overhangs (or eaves), a common design feature on most California homes, was where most of the house fires started.

Measures like trimming back foliage, planting iceplant buffers or adding a fire sprinkler system would be much more effective in preventing the loss of a building to fire. Unfortunately, wind-driven fires, like the ones that just roared through our county, devour everything in their path, regardless of the roof material.

It's easy to understand why the politicians are eager to shift the blame away from their long history of underfunding the county's fire fighting resources, but banning wood shingle roofs will not prevent future fires. Unfortunately, the construction industry has not yet created a fire resistant replacement roofing material that effectively simulates the look of a real wood shingle roof. If there were another choice I would be the first in line to support replacing all wood shingle roofs.

Several local historic buildings have prominent cedar shingle roofs, such as the Point Loma Lighthouse, the Villa Montezuma, and the Red Roost and Red Rest cottages in La Jolla. Until the time when there is a suitable replacement material, the use of wood shingles, properly fire treated and installed, should continue to be permitted in the city and county of San Diego.

I encourage you to help those who were victimized by the fires. Tax deductible donations can be sent to the San Diego Fire Relief Fund at PO Box 609609, San Diego, California 92160.

2003 - Volume 34, Issue 4

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