Published on September 4, 2018.


Readers respond: All about eaves

To the editor:

I am a corporate firefighter and technical support representative for a fire extinguisher manufacturer in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. I was a career firefighter and retired as a battalion chief from the Eau Claire Fire and Rescue Department after nearly 30 years of service. After I retired I was hired by Rusoh Inc. to conduct UL fire tests on their extinguishers and serve as technical support for the product.

I just read your brief [“In Compliance Xchange,” July/August] about how the under-eave area of a house is often overlooked in addressing home wildfire protection—well done. I, too, am a supporter of better protection for the eaves of homes and commercial properties. I have seen people store firewood, baled hay, dumpsters and garbage cans, and other combustible materials next to a structure, and this allows fire quick entry under the roof through this poorly protected area. I also have seen awnings direct heat and fire back into these regions.

Another problem I have witnessed many times in the municipal fire setting is fire extension into the roof area through the eaves during structure fires. When fire vents out a window, it quickly impinges on the eave area. The vinyl or aluminum decorative surface is immediately destroyed and fire is in the attic in seconds. The situation gets even worse as the trussed roofing members begin to drop their gang-nail plate fasteners.

I totally agree with your assessment that the eave areas are vulnerable points of fire entry and likely the least protected area on a building’s exterior. I would like to see building codes at minimum require better protection above every window and extending three feet outside the windows’ outer vertical frames to protect the attic area during a structure fire. In wildland situations, protecting the entire eave area would greatly reduce fire transmitting into the structure, and this protection would not significantly increase building costs. I believe the offset to this initial cost would be a reduction in fire damage and losses due to wildland and structure fires.


Eau Claire, Wisconsin

Considering spontaneous combustion

To the editor:

The Firewatch department in NFPA Journal sometimes highlights fire issues that are not well known. One of those issues was addressed in the July/August issue, in a Firewatch item titled “Oily rags blamed for function hall fire.”

The article said “investigators determined that the fire started when rags soaked in cooking oil and stored in a cardboard box in the kitchen had spontaneously combusted.” It is true that towels soaked in oils used in cooking and food preparation can spontaneously ignite, which is not well known. The solution is to install listed oily towel collection containers that are available from local fire equipment distributors. These listed devices limit oxygen to prevent fires and have automatic self-closing lids that will prevent the spread of fire, should one occur.

The timing is good to address this topic—I plan to bring it up in New Orleans at the October meeting of the technical committee for NFPA 96, Ventilation Control and Fire Protection of Commercial Cooking Operations. Hopefully, we can have something on this topic for the next edition of the standard.



Charlotte, North Carolina

A front row seat in Hawaii

To the editor:

Today I read the NFPA Journal article on the Hawaii volcanic eruptions [“Kilauea Calamity,” Dispatches, July/August]. The article took a decent stab at covering the issue, but it would have been nice to see the story cite more firsthand sources than rely on secondhand news. There were aspects of the story that were questionable, and others that were flat out omitted.

How do I know? Because I live just a few miles down the street from the eruption. At least a dozen of my friends have lost their homes. I watch the lava glow from my front yard nightly.

I am a former managing editor of NFPA Journal, and as a journalist I have covered the eruption for USA Today and appeared on the BBC and Al Jazeera English. I am also a Hawaii County Fire Commissioner. It's unfortunate no one at NFPA Journal reached out because I could have provided additional insight.

The piece focused on the threat lava flows posed to the Puna Geothermal Venture (PGV), a power plant that services much of the Island of Hawaii. The fact is that PGV did not have an evacuation plan in place prior to the eruption. It also took PGV a while to obtain the parts it needed to cap its geothermal wells. I attended one media briefing in which Tom Travis, the state’s Emergency Management Agency administrator, walked backed on his statement four times in the space of 15 minutes, first telling reporters that the wells were plugged, then saying they weren't plugged, then saying they wanted to plug them, then saying they hoped to have them plugged. I and thousands of other residents lived in absolute fear and panic for days. It is by the grace of God that the lava slowed, [allowing time for] parts to be transported from the mainland.

The article mentioned the “thousands of people [who] have faced warnings of noxious sulphur dioxide gases.” People are doing more than receiving warnings about the noxious gases—we are living in them daily. I smell sulphur as I sit here typing this email. Like many, I have an older plantation-style house with louver windows that do not fully close—great for letting trade winds keep things cool, not great for keeping out noxious gases. There have been days when the air quality was so bad that the U.S. Postal Service suspended mail delivery.

Perhaps most galling to me was the story’s closing paragraph [which referenced reportage from The New York Times—ed.], stating that “many native Hawaiians” are taking this in stride. I can assure you no one here is taking this eruption in stride. This has forever altered the island, from the loss of more than 700 homes to the displacement of thousands of people to millions of dollars in lost property taxes.

Here are some things to consider. At least four fire stations on the Island of Hawaii do not meet NFPA minimum requirements for staffing. How does that impact disaster response when a community faces an ongoing and unprecedented disaster?

How fast can building codes adapt to conditions that radically alter the community landscape? By even its own account, Hawaii County has under-represented the number of homes destroyed by lava. The official count is north of 700, but by some estimates the number is much higher. The County is only including permitted homes in its homes-lost tally, but this is a district with the highest percentage of unpermitted homes in the state.

What about building codes and earthquakes? Our island has experienced more than 18,000 earthquakes in the past 30 days. Some areas, like the town of Volcano, experience a magnitude-five quake roughly every 24 hours. That's on top of the 6.9-magnitude quake experienced in May. The only major highway connecting the island through that area is now slumping and cracking from all the earthquake damage. There is no alternate route available.

That's just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what is happening out here. It is disheartening when I see things published that aren't quite representative of what is happening or that minimize the risks and realities of a situation, especially one to which I have a front row seat.


Island of Hawaii