In an attempt to prevent the type of widespread fire damage that devastated Glendale and Santa Barbara this summer, Los Angeles County supervisors are prepared to pass an ordinance that fire officials say would outlaw wooden roofs in hillside areas, including parts of the San Gabriel Valley.
Three supervisors on the five-member board said last week that they will support a recommendation by county Fire Chief P. Michael Freeman that new roofs in the hilly areas be "effective against severe fire exposure."
The proposal also requires using fire-resistant materials on outside walls.
The law would apply in unincorporated hillside areas, which make up nearly a fourth of the county's 4,093 square miles, Freeman said. In the San Gabriel Valley, the main areas that would be covered by the measure are in Hacienda Heights, Rowland Heights and Altadena.
A vote on the ordinance was postponed last week to give representatives of the wood roofing industry time to protest. They said shake roofs can be built to meet the new standard, but at a cost prohibitive to most consumers.
A vote is expected Oct. 17.
Fire officials blamed wood roofs, in part, for the destruction caused by the Santa Barbara and Glendale fires. The Santa Barbara fire destroyed 500 houses and apartments and caused $237 million in damage, while the Glendale blaze claimed 46 homes and caused $50 million in damage.
The Los Angeles City Council last year barred new wood roofs, but the industry has gone to court in a bid to overturn the law.
Many other cities in the county--including Arcadia, Burbank, Covina, El Monte, Duarte, Glendale, Hidden Hills and Rancho Palos Verdes--already impose the tougher building standards, which the Board of Supervisors will consider.
Glendale fire officials have proposed that the city go a step further, ordering the removal, over five years, of shake in fire-prone hillside neighborhoods. The Glendale City Council, however, has not adopted that plan.
Paul Blackburn, a deputy county fire chief, said the proposed county ordinance is a common-sense response to the danger of wildfires.
"It doesn't mean that every house is going to survive a fire, but it means you have a better chance," Blackburn said. "It's like wearing a seat belt in your car: It gives you a lot better chance of surviving."
Freeman said wood roofs would not meet the requirements of the new ordinance, which is drawn from standards set by the insurance industry.
But officials in the wood roofing industry disagreed. They said shake roofs can meet the requirement if they are treated with fire retardant and supported by two layers of plywood and one layer of fireproof plasterboard.