Case Study The House That Caught Fire—And The One That Didn't

Case Study

The House That Caught Fire—And The One That Didn't

In October 2017, a catastrophic fire raged through the Redwood Valley Mendocino Lake Complex in California where it took the lives of eight people, burned over 36,000 acres and destroyed 546 structures in just two hours.

This cascade of wildfires that destroyed over a quarter of the homes in the neighborhood of Bob Gates, a local volunteer fireman, came to be known as the Northern California Firestorm.

Bob’s home was surrounded by vineyards from the west and the north, and his 2,000 square foot home was custom built with gorgeous marble entryways, solid fir doors, tropical hardwood in their bedrooms and redwood siding. Behind the property was a massive redwood deck that wrapped around the home. 175 feet from his primary residence was a second 1,400 square-foot structure that Bob and his wife utilized as an office and art studio. 

Unfortunately, within 15 minutes of the flames encroaching on his property, Bob Gates’ entire primary residence burned down to the ground. “I remember looking out at one point and seeing 13 homes on fire,” Bob told us.

Thankfully, the second structure just a hundred or so steps from the main house was still standing. How? It wasn’t covered in natural wood siding like the primary house: It was protected with Nichiha’s fiber cement siding.

Nichiha’s Architectural Wall Panels are constructed primarily from cement with a mix of approximately 15% wood fibers. These ignition resistant properties make it an ideal building material for areas prone to wildfires, like the dry, western parts of the United States.

Nichiha’s panels have passed the most stringent fire code tests in the country. They meet NFPA 268 and ULC S134, two tests that evaluate ignition resistance qualities, classifying Nichiha as a Class A building material with a flame spread index of zero. 

It even meets California’s Office of the State Fire Marshal (SFM) CA SFM 12.7A-1, a test that determines the performance of walls when they are exposed to direct flames.

“My wife is an art therapist, so our second residence acted as her art studio. She had milk crates of tiles that were up against the foundation, and they melted, just like a candle. It didn’t even scorch the Nichiha panels,” says Bob.

“This stuff is amazing,” he continued. “It was battered all night long, with embers like ping-pong balls hitting the siding for about three hours." Bob watched the fire engulf his property from the safety of the "armored" office.* He estimated the fire was burning at 500 to 550 degrees, hot enough to “cook” everything.

As of July 2020, Bob has rebuilt his brand new home, almost three years after the initial wildfire. During the construction process, they lived in the art studio. “When we built the new home, we had it surrounded by 2,600 square feet of concrete and water cannons that shoot 48-150 gallons of water an hour.”

But that wasn’t the only upgrade he made. Without a doubt in his mind, Bob Gates knew he had to build his new house with Nichiha’s VintageWood fiber cement after its performance with his office. “We love our house and we love Nichiha’s products — and we will tell that to anyone who’ll listen.”

Nichiha’s VintageWood fiber cement, our most popular product line, is a part of our Wood Series. It allowed Bob Gates and his wife to have the authentic, warm look of wood without any of the burning culpabilities, maintenance or pest issues.

“Before the installation on our new home, a local Nichiha rep came down and walked us and our contractor and architect (whose house also burned down) through the installation process to make it less complicated,” Bob told us.

And at the end of our conversation, we asked Bob if he would use Nichiha again. Bob didn’t hesitate: “I don’t see why anybody would put anything on their house other than Nichiha.”

*Please note that no matter what siding you have on your home, wildfires are dangerous and the ideal option is to always vacate the home.

"This stuff is amazing. It was battered all night long, with embers like ping pong balls hitting the siding for about three hours."
Bob Gates, Homeowner

The Challenge

A wildfire in Northern California ravaged an entire neighborhood in 2017, taking the lives of eight people, burning over 36,000 acres and destroying 546 structures in just two hours. The Gates’ needed siding for their new home that would help protect it in the event of another wildfire.

The Solution

Bob Gates decided to side his new home with Nichiha’s VintageWood panels after it saved his wife’s art studio and his office from burning in the Northern California Firestorm.

The Results

Bob and his wife were able to use this office as a second home to fall back on as they rebuilt their primary home with Nichiha’s VintageWood fiber cement siding. Now, almost three years later, their home is finished, and they have peace of mind with Nichiha’s fire-resistant protection.

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