Glowing firebrands (burning wood pieces) make for a warm evening in front of the fireplace, but for homeowners in high fire-risk areas, windborne fire material can be a nightmare. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has built a firebrand generator to study how firebrands ignite structures. It generates controlled and repeatable firebrands that can be adjusted to replicate those produced by burning vegetation.

The research, conducted by NIST researchers and Japanese colleagues, could help design homes to be more resistant to firebrand ignition in the path of wildfires, and in areas where structures exist amidst undeveloped land. It could also lead to new building codes and standards to protect homes in the United States and Japan.

NIST fire engineers recently used the new apparatus to observe, for the first time, the mechanism of firebrand penetration through building vents fitted with screens. They generated a controlled firebrand shower onto a structure. A gable vent on the front face of the structure and three different-sized steel screens installed behind the gable vent were unable to block firebrands from penetrating the openings. The scientists saw the firebrands burn until the glowing embers fit through the screen openings and ignite fires inside the structure.

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