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A house in Chino Hills receives first ever Wildfire Prepared Home Plus designation

OP Almaraz’s house is tucked in the rolling green fields of Chino Hills, a city in the Southwestern corner of San Bernardino County. The two story, tan stucco house is in the middle of a cul-de-sac in the Hillcrest neighborhood.

On a brisk sunny Monday morning, Almaraz opened his home to the Insurance Institute of Business and Home Safety. Almaraz’s home is the first house to ever be designated Wildfire Prepared Home Plus, a designation developed by the IBHS.

IBHS is a nonprofit scientific organization that researches disaster safety strategies to give home and business owners solutions to protect against natural disaster.

Dr. Anne Cope is Chief Engineer at IBHS. She helped develop the designation, which is the highest tier of the IBHS’s wildfire preparedness program. Last June, Paradise, California, a town ravaged by 2018’s Camp Fire, decided to require all new homes built in the town to be built with IBHS’s lower tier designation, Wildfire Prepared Home.

“Nothing is wildfire proof, but people can take control over their risk,” said Cope.

The Plus designation has doubled the requirements of the Wildfire Prepared Home designation. IBHS's three key components of both designations include
the roof, exterior building features and the five-foot defensible space. These upgrades include installation of ember-resistant mesh on vents and maintaining a five-foot space between the home and any combustible materials like plants.

Almaraz said he was inspired to seek out the Wildfire Prepared Home Plus designation for his home after he was evacuated during 2020’s Blue Ridge Fire. He realized if his home burned down, his insurance would not cover much.

Over the course of a year and a half, Almaraz took on a series of home improvement projects designed by the IBHS to mitigate wildfire risk. Almaraz covered his gutters to prevent the accumulation of leaves, created a five foot area around his home and installed non-combustible shutters.

Cope explained it is embers, not flames, that typically ignite homes during a wildfire. The embers swirl upwards and can ignite landscaping or penetrate attic vents to ignite internal structures.

“Think about what's in your attic. I have a lot of stuff in my attic like you know Christmas paper and stuff like that. It's all very flammable," said Cope.

The installation of mesh over vents prevents embers from getting in.

Rich Snyder, a retired fire marshal who now consults with Allied Disaster Defense, said that new building codes will help protect new and future developments from wildfires, but most structures are existing. Snyder said homeowners in already existing homes now have a blueprint for how to protect their homes by making IBHS’s do-it-yourself improvements.

“This home [Almaraz’s] is built to survive a fire,” said Snyder.

The IBHS’s Wildfire Prepared Home and Wildfire Prepared Home Plus designations are only available in California at this time. Interested homeowners can check eligibility, apply and schedule an inspection at wildfireprepared.org/get-started.