Noncombustible Walls Spare Lives, Property In Oregon Fire

As they moved into their Neskowin, Ore., home for the second time Neal and Linda Anderson were keenly aware of concrete’s fire-containment benefits. Just

As they moved into their Neskowin, Ore., home Û for the second time Û Neal and Linda Anderson were keenly aware of concrete’s fire-containment benefits. Just over three months after first moving into the house, a fire blazed on Sept. 10, 2005, through the garage, attic and roof. Complete destruction of the residence and its contents was averted by the home’s insulating concrete form (ICF) construction.

Initial plans for the Neskowin home were based on a Spokane, Wash., residence the Andersons purchased in 1986. Constructed for energy efficiency, that house won the top award among the city’s Street of Dreams model homes. Accordingly, the Oregon residence was to be built partially in the ground to conserve energy and save on heating and cooling costs.

Neal Anderson observes, Spokane, like the rest of eastern Washington, has hot summers and cold winters. That entire house, which had concrete walls and earthen berms for insulation, was heated with a single wood burning fireplace. I never paid more than $30 a month for heating or cooling.

When the Andersons sought to locate that perfect house on the Oregon coast, they were advised by builder Larry Bilyeu of Bilyeu Homes in Salem, Ore., against setting a home in the ground. While the Andersons wanted to capture the insulating factor of soil against the concrete walls, western Oregon is too wet for earthen berm construction, he explains. For comparable insulation values, we recommended using Reward ICFs.

The Neskowin house was constructed between January and May 2005, with a Memorial Day occupancy. Just over three month later, after hot cigarette ashes were emptied into a trash can in the garage, a fire smoldered and spread into the ceiling and attic of the home. While a smoke alarm in the master bedroom alerted the couple to the fire, a neighboring member of the Tillamook County Volunteer Fire Department called in the fire alarm and proceeded to man a small fire truck parked nearby. A full 35 minutes elapsed before volunteers with the large fire truck arrived.

Evidence indicates that the concrete walls performed admirably: they supported the roof over the house and did not burn. Fire was confined to the garage, an office lacking concrete walls at the rear of the residence, and the attic. Concrete walls prevented the ceiling from collapsing into the home.

Mary Lou Fletcher, the fire marshal in Pacific City, Ore., reports that concrete walls contained the fire in the garage until it found a weak spot in the ceiling, whereupon flames worked their way into the attic and down into the office at the back of the house. Any other house would have burned to the ground, Fletcher asserts. When fires occur in this remote an area, we concentrate on protecting surrounding homes, because by the time we arrive on the scene, the frame houses are gone. In this case, plastic flowers in the front of the house didn’t even melt.

John Stoddard, president of American Restoration Co. of Salem, Ore., which completed restoration of the residence, confirms that his crews were able to save the concrete walls and floor joists. Foam insulation was sprayed on the walls, and furring strips were attached to support drywall and siding.