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A new program on the South Coast aims to better protect homes against wildfire embers

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Montecito Fire Department
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Vents are being replaced for free for some residents in Montecito

When it comes to wildfire preparation, when was the last time you considered the difference your air vents could make?

Ahead of high fire season, the Montecito Fire Department is replacing some vents at local homes with fire-resistant materials, for free.

The Vent Retrofit Program is an effort to make homes in Montecito more resilient to wildfire.

During a wildfire, embers can make their way through vents and other crevices. Those embers may ignite combustible material inside the home and potentially lead to a home being severely damaged or destroyed, says Nic Elmquist from Montecito Fire Department.

"A lot of these wildfires are burning under very extreme conditions including very strong winds. When you get these extreme fires with very strong winds, it casts embers upwards to a mile plus ahead of the main fire front," Elmquist told KCLU.

"These embers are what starts a lot of these little fires, called spot fires, around the structure. Older vents have been found to be very vulnerable in allowing embers to intrude inside the structure and cause a structure fire," he said.

The California Fire Code was recently updated to require vent screens be 1/8 to 1/16 inch apart. Newly designed vents provide excellent ventilation while preventing flames and embers from entering the home.

These new ember-resistant vents will keep embers out and reduce structural ignitions during a wildfire.

Recent post-fire assessments have found hardened structures had over three times the likelihood of surviving compared to non-hardened structures. Additionally, studies analyzing the impacts of the Camp and Woolsey wildfires of 2018 found many structures were lost due to ember-intrusion through vents.

To reduce the impacts of future wildfires in our community, the Montecito Fire Department allocated budget funds to initiate a Home Hardening Assistance Program.

Interested homeowners may apply to participate in the 2022 Vent Retrofit Program.

Wildland Fire Specialists will identify properties within Montecito that will most benefit from upgrading their vents, based on their risk of being adversely affected by a wildfire.