(KTXL) — Recent catastrophic wildfires have shown that not much that is man-made can survive a firestorm.
So, does rebuilding homes and structures in wildfire areas using tried-and-true wood frame construction make any sense?
Professor of structural engineering Michel Barbato thinks there might be a better way to build fire-resistant structuring using dirt.
“This material doesn’t burn. Can we use it to build houses that are fireproof,” Barbato said.
Mud and adobe bricks that do not have to be fired in ovens have been used to build stout structures for 10,000 years. But Barbato, who is co-director at the University of California, Davis Climate Adaptation Research Center, said what has been missing is using scientific analysis and methods to create better bricks.
“What we are doing is really reengineering it so it has better properties, cheaper costs and better safety,” Barbato said.
There was no contest when wood and mud brick were torched at 3,400 degrees, hotter than any wildfire.
When a wooden home burns, it also spreads toxic plastics, petroleum products and chemicals into the environment.
The bricks insulate well, termites don’t take to them and they can be made on the spot, which eliminates transportation expenses.
Researchers at UC Davis even made bricks using soil collected from Paradise, which fell victim to the Camp Fire.
Previous attempts to commercially produce mud bricks have resulted in uneven quality and reliability. The longer goal is to build a structure with reengineered bricks.
“There is also some prejudice against a house made of mud, and the only way to convince people that they can have a beautiful, safe material is by building it,” Barbato said.
Barbato said building safer structures is just a part of living with wildfires. Equally important are forest management, communication, evacuation planning and maintaining defensible space around homes.