By GABRIELLA BOCK | Reporter
When the Skirball Fire broke out near the 405 Freeway during the early hours of Dec. 6, 2017, many residents in Bel Air and Brentwood scrambled to evacuate as the flames quickly moved up the hillside. Others took their time, gathering personal belongings and making travel plans before heading off to a friend’s house or nearby hotel.
Scott Harris, co-founder and chief operating officer of Building Construction Group, a construction firm that utilizes advanced and eco-friendly building materials, told the Palisadian-Post that those who chose to stay longer were likely able to do so because they had homes built with fire resistant materials.
Harris, whose firm has built homes for numerous celebrity clients—most recently a LEED Platinum Certified Home for actor Ed Begley Jr.—and several families across Pacific Palisades, has advised homeowners to take extra fire precautions when building or updating their houses.
Such measures can be as simple as installing sprinklers and heat detection systems in already existing homes, but for those seeking to start from scratch, building materials such as steel studs, paperless drywall and tempered glass can make the difference between losing a nice set of curtains and losing your life in the event of a fire.
“The best way to prevent fire is to build with things that don’t burn,” Harris revealed. “The home should be an enclosed envelope—if a fire does occur we want it to spread as slowly as possible.”
The best way to do that, he explained, is by building a home’s exterior with recyclable metals instead of wood and by using materials like DensGlass—a fire resistant fiberglass sheathing placed behind drywall—and fire-rated doors, both of which are said to offer homeowners up to one hour of fire protection.
In addition to keeping flames at bay, DensGlass is a mold-resistant material, an element that Harris said should be just as important to a homeowner as preventing a fire.
“A home with paper backed drywall is almost always going to have mold growing inside the walls,” he said. “Then people get sick and lay in their beds not realizing that they are placing themselves right in the middle of what’s making them ill.
“So not only do we want to keep people safe from fires, we also want to use design to keep people healthy.”
Other recommended renovation updates include removing an older home’s open ventilation system and replacing it with a timed trap door system.
“Large vent openings will act as a conduit and bring flames up through an entire house in just a matter of minutes,” he said. “By keeping the fire contained in one area of the home, whoever is inside will have enough time to get themselves out safely, but it will also give the fire department more time to respond effectively.”
Harris also recommended that Palisadians keep a fire extinguisher and a few gallons of flame-retardant spray like Thermo-Gel, a concentrate that, when mixed with water, becomes a heat-absorbing Class A fire retardant. Sold by Fire Etc. of San Diego, homeowners can use a simple garden sprayer to apply the product onto a home or lawn once given word that a fire is approaching.
“There’s no such thing as an entirely fireproof home,” Harris noted, “but by using a smart approach to design, we can better equip people with the tools necessary to stay as safe as possible.”
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