It is hard to think about lessons to be learned from such a tragedy, but one is very clear. If you have a shake shingle roof, you must replace it if you live in an area with any fire risk whatsoever. It is as simple as that. Shake shingle roofs are tinder for a roaring fire. Over time, they become dry and brittle. You can literally crack them in half in your hands with little effort. If you were looking to start a fire, this is the stuff you would hope to find on the ground. The problem with shake shingles, of course, is how they react when embers land on them. In a fire, the heat forces the air upwards. As something burns, smaller embers do not fall the ground. Instead, they tend to float up into the air on the heat drafts. They can then be carried east, west, north or south depending on prevailing wind conditions.
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The story of fires in Rancho Santa Fe bears this out. The Ranch is an old building area with very expensive homes. To its east for about 8 miles lays valleys and hills covered in scrub. As this scrub caught fire, it would kick up burning embers. The embers would then be carried as far as a mile and half before landing. This “skipping” action is the reason firefighters were unable to stop the fires. New ones were simply springing up right and left. So, what happened when these embers finally landed? If they landed on tile or fire resistant roofs, nothing usually occurred. If they landed on shake shingle roofs, the home was usually destroyed. Obviously, not all shake shingle roof homes burned nor did all tile roof homes survive. That being said, your odds of getting through the fire without losing your home where a lot better if you didn’t have a shake shingle roof. If you live in a home with a fire risk, you need to consider whether your roof is comprised of the best materials.