Safe Community Project


Attacking Fire Dangers in Victorian Homes

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The Safe Community Project has been working for over a decade to help families keep their homes safe from fire hazards. Our operations include free smoke alarm and CO detector installation and educational training sessions. Thanks to our efforts, thousands of homes have become more resilient against disasters.

Each year, our Los Angeles Division, MySafe:LA looks at various gaps and at-risk segments of the greater L.A. community. Recently, one of the more dangerous sets of homes identified are those built more than 100 years ago and of either Victorian or Craftsman design. 

A man standing in front of a Victorian-style home with a woman standing on the front porch on a sunny day.

These homes are found extensively in very specific communities in L.A., typically referred to as L.A.’s forgotten neighborhoods: Angelino Heights, Montecito Heights, Mount Washington, Highland Park, Boyle Heights, University Park, Westlake, Pico-Union, and Windsor Square.

There are more than 79,000 + victorian and craftsman-style homes in L.A. These homes were built between 1890 and 1955. A majority have never been properly updated relative to fire safety. In both styles of homes: electrical knob & tube connections were soldered & taped so they were strong, but they were not done in a junction box. When one of these connections fails, it creates a serious fire hazard since the wiring is exposed. The insulation used on the knob and tube wiring was rubber, which becomes very brittle with age and eventually crumbles off. This missing insulation means there are exposed live wires in walls and attics.

When some renovation was attempted, fire dangers increased. As one example, homeowners unknowingly installed blown-in insulation over active knob and tube wiring creating a significant fire risk.

Over the past six years, our in-home inspections of Victorian and Craftsman homes have revealed several issues such as hidden junction boxes, circuits patched with electrical tape, and overcrowded circuits. These homes were built over 70 years ago and do not meet modern electrical requirements. They are primarily made of wood, multi-level, have narrow corridors, attics, and gas heating. Shockingly, only three in ten of these homes had smoke alarms, and the existing ones were either more than 20 years old or non-functional.

Many of these homes have also been sub-divided, typically without proper code being applied, and a home that originally housed one family, might now be housing two to four families.

Victorian and Craftsman homes burn differently than other types of homes, causing significant losses, injuries, and fatalities. In Los Angeles, a typical structure fire can be put out by an average of 26 firefighters in less than 20 minutes. However, a typical Victorian or Craftsman home fire requires between 80 and 120 firefighters, takes more than an hour to extinguish, and is responsible for 65% of the injuries and 42% of the fatalities in the city. These figures have been tracked through the National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS).

Much of the increased risk of building fires can be attributed to two different construction styles: balloon style and platform style framing. In balloon-style framing, fire can easily spread from the first floor to the attic without any fire breaks. This makes it more dangerous for firefighters and occupants to escape and increases the potential for adjacent buildings to also catch fire. In fact, there have been cases where fires burned so hot that even the street light at the corner melted.

Two female members of MySafe:LA installing a smoke alarm in a home.

Our MySafe:LA education teams will be working in the greater L.A. area to help ensure the safety of residents living in forgotten neighborhood Victorian and Craftsman-style homes. Our research team has identified key areas within these neighborhoods that we will be targeting. We will be inspecting these homes for fire hazards and teaching fire safety in five languages. Our teams will also be installing FREE smoke alarms and CO detectors in each residence involved, thereby maximizing increased safety.

Our installation teams will be pre-canvasing the neighborhood a week prior to our arrival. They will be leaving door hangers and promoting the use of our website or our 800 telephone number for residents to make appointments. We have found that this method is more effective in reaching more homes than single-day canvassing.

A four-person team standing outside a car on a sunny day, preparing to canvass.

During their visit, our teams will teach residents about evacuation plans and home fire dangers. They will also provide each visited home with a new smoke alarm and an escape plan. To reach key demographics within the at-risk neighborhoods, we will utilize a combination of live translators and video content. 

Finally, we will collect feedback from each visited home via a short in-home survey. This will provide our team with key demographic and fire safety data for use in survey and performance analysis.

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