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Industry Fights Proposed L.A. Ban on Wood Roofs

June 26, 1988|DAVID M. KINCHEN | Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles--the largest city in the most important cedar shake and shingle market in the nation--is considering a ban on wood roofs, and the industry is fighting back by stressing that the latest methods of treating wood for fire resistance are effective.

Michael M. Westfall, president of the Bellevue, Wash.-based Red Cedar Shingle & Handsplit Shake Bureau, is attempting to preserve the cedar roofing industry's estimated 35% share of the Southland roofing market in the face of what he considers hostile anti-wood-roof ordinances.

In an interview in Los Angeles, where he addressed a Los Angeles City Council committee that is considering a ban on new wood shake and shingle roofs, Westfall said that properly treated by the latest methods involving vacuum chambers and the use of old-growth kiln-dried wood, shakes and shingles can meet the Underwriters' Laboratories UL 790 standard on fire resistant roofing materials.

This test is accepted by the International Conference of Building Officials (ICBO) and most building permit jurisdictions in the nation.

Westfall met last week with Councilman Hal Bernson who told him that the City Council will soon vote on whether to ban wood shakes and shingles or ban only untreated shakes and shingles. Bernson--whose district includes Chatsworth, a community that has been devasted by past brush fires--is the sponsor, along with Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, of the proposed ban on shakes and shingles on new houses and their use in reroofing existing houses.

Inspector Ed Reed of the Los Angeles Fire Department said that the department has taken no position one way or the other on Bernson's wood roof ban.

"We don't have any evidence that tells us that treated roofs are dangerous," he said.

Westfall admitted that the bureau had not been realistic in its previous efforts to counteract the poor image of wood roofs, a position confirmed by Philip C. Favro, California's fire marshal from 1975 to 1983 and now a fire safety consultant.

Untrimmed Brush

"We tried to sidestep the issue of how untreated wood roofs contributed to brush fires by saying that untrimmed brush was the cause of the fire, not the roofs," Westfall said of the bureau's previous tack. "This was true, but untreated wood roofs were a major problem in brush areas and even in flatland areas where the houses are typically jammed together."

California's brush fire season usually starts in mid-summer, but because of the continuing drought, the state fire marshal declared April 4 as the beginning of the 1988 fire season.

Westfall said that the new generation of pressure-treated red cedar shakes and shingles are as fire resistant as the best of the competition.

In his June 1 testimony before the council's Building and Safety Committee, attended by Councilwomen Ruth Galanter and Joy Picus, Westfall said that pressure-treated shakes/shingles meet all fire safety standards, depending on the construction of the roof deck.

Favro said in an interview that during his tenure as fire marshal, a representative of the wood-roof lobby from Sacramento was at nearly every major fire involving shake or shingle roofs, denying that wood roofs contributed to the spread of the fire.

"The wood shake and shingle industry realizes that 65% to 70% of the fires involving wood roofs are in Los Angeles and Orange counties and that something had to be done if the industry wants to survive in its most important single market."

Favro, president of Favro-McLaughlin & Associates, based in the Sacramento suburb of Fair Oaks, agreed with Westfall that the new method of pressure treating shingles and shakes is acceptable and that the treating will last for at least 10 years, possibly for the life of the roof.

Robert Burns, executive director of the Committee for Fire Safe Roofing, Mountain View, Calif., said that suppliers of pressure-treated cedar shingles and shakes are welcome to join his organization--as long as the wood roofing materials pass the UL 790 test and are listed by ICBO.

"Most of our members produce composition, vermiculite, cement, tile, metal and other naturally fire-resistant roofing," he added.

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