[GSBN] Straw Bale House Fire
mfhammer at pacbell.net
Wed Apr 1 00:06:42 CDT 2009
Informative (and sometimes tragic) reports from everyone re: SB and fire,
initiated by John Rehorn's alert about the recent fire in a SB house in
I'm copying Don Fisher on this. Don is a firefighter who gave a very good
presentation at the 2008 CASBA conference on a SB house fire he fought in
Arizona. Everyone was glued to his presentation and it brought up much
spirited discussion. We learned from Don and vice-versa. Don wrote a piece
for publication in a fire-fighting periodical (Don, is there any way I or
other GSBN members could obtain that article?) and gave subsequent
presentations to firefighters about fighting fires in SB buildings. I
believe he also presented at the COSBA conference last year (is that correct
The biggest issue that came out of Don's interaction with the straw bale
building community, is that protocols need to be developed, and firefighters
need to be trained specifically about how to fight fires in SB buildings if
they work in districts where they exist. There is abundant evidence that
plastered SB buildings are less of a fire hazard (more difficult to ignite,
give more time to fight) than wood frame buildings, but treating them like
wood frame buildings can cause additional fire and unnecessary damage to the
building. Maybe even an unnecessary total loss, or unnecessary injury or
death of a fire-fighter or occupant.
Specifically I'm referring to the practice of opening a wall to extinguish
evidence of smoldering or to wet and cool known or suspected hot spots. One
lesson Don learned in fighting the Arizona fire (Don, correct me if I'm
wrong) was that opening a plastered straw bale wall at the site of a fire is
usually unnecessary and counterproductive for the reasons we all know
(bringing oxygen and/or an ignition source to otherwise protected straw, and
breaking tight bales into very flammable loose straw).
I'm intrigued by Catherine Wanek and Pete Fust's report about using a
non-contact heat sensing device to detect hot spots in the SB walls after
the fire at their Black Range Lodge (and I thank the straw bale gods it
didn't suffer more damage). It seems like a great way to locate and remove
heated/charred/smoldering(?) straw, while minimizing damage and repair to
the wall system. But I have to wonder what's wrong with doing nothing to
the wall. That is, how could it ignite if you don't give it oxygen? And
eventually it will cool to a temperature where ignition is no longer a
concern, even if it were given oxygen.
Don, are there resources and do you think there is interest in the
fire-fighting community to develop protocols in partnership with people from
the straw bale community, for fighting fires in straw bale buildings? Also,
I can (presumably) forward to you other e-mails from this GSBN discussion on
fire if you're interested. Please respond to me (mfhammer at pacbell.net) so I
know you've received this.
On 3/29/09 10:00 AM, "john rehorn" <rehorn at frontier.net> wrote:
> Hi Everyone,
> There was a straw bale home fire on Friday near Lyons, Colorado.
> I'm looking into the circumstances at present. Sympathies and good
> thoughts to the Akia family.
> With that said, I believe this can be an educational opportunity for
> all concerned. How did the earthen plastered sb walls perform? Why
> did the owner need to thaw out frozen pipes in March, especially in a
> straw bale? There is also the need to correct erroneous assumptions
> regarding fire and sb as quickly and publicly as possible. As you
> all know, one bad story about one straw bale house can overpower a
> thousand good ones.
> Any information about this unfortunate event is very welcomed. Also,
> if the subject of this house crops up on your internet presence,
> please educate the public in a good way.
> John Rehorn
> Executive Director
> Colorado Straw Bale Association
> coloradostrawbale at yahoo.com
> GSBN mailing list
> GSBN at greenbuilder.com
More information about the GSBN