The excellent story in the Ventura County Star doesn't come right out and say it, but essentially it's simple — homes built after modern fire codes are far less likely to burn.
'Specially on large lots:
There are thousands of homes in Ventura County that, like Eichele’s,
are on what fire officials call the “urban-wildland interface,” the
most dangerous place to be in a wildfire.
But in the past five years, despite fires that have consumed
hundreds of thousands of acres of brush, only six homes in Ventura
County have burned. The last fire to cause widespread destruction was
in 2003, when 38 homes were lost in Simi Valley.
In the past six months, the Santa Barbara area has lost about 300 homes in two major fires.
Luck has played some part in our differing fortunes. But fire and
planning experts say there are other factors that have made Ventura
County safer in recent years, from the terrain to the pattern of urban
development to the county’s early embrace of strict fire codes.
The story by Tony Biscotti quotes fire chief Bob Roper, who gets into the details:
The most important factor
in fire safety isn’t where you build, it’s how you build, said Ventura
County Fire Chief Bob Roper.
“The No. 1 thing is when the homes were developed, what the planning
conditions were and what the building conditions were at the time,” he
said. “Wherever you are, you can make a community not fire-proof, but
what we call a fire-adaptive community.”
Roper went to Santa Barbara with some of his fire crews and surveyed
the Jesusita burn area. He saw hundreds of homes in danger because they
were built in the 1960s or earlier, before modern fire codes were
common. They were “structural fuel,” just as much as the dry brush was
“native fuel,” Roper said.
The newest homes were considered so safe that firefighters took
shelter in them when the fire approached, Roper said. Like any home
built recently in a fire-prone area, they had double-paned,
heat-resistant windows, fire-resistant materials for the roofs and
walls, and vents small enough to prevent burning embers from blowing
Roper said he also saw some substandard brush clearance in the
Jesusita fire. Most cities and counties in California have laws on the
books that require property owners to keep weeds and other flammable
brush away from their homes, but Ventura County was one of the first,
Specifically, Ventura County doesn't get the direct north-to-south sundowner winds that Santa Barbara does…but on the other hand gets plenty of the better-known and just as dangerous Santa Anas.
Let me put repeat the story's point, a little more bluntly: In the last couple of years both Santa Barbara and Ventura counties have suffered huge fires.
Santa Barbara has lost over 300 homes.
[Here's a pic from the Jesusita fire by Jonathan Alcorn]