Ask an Expert: Wildfires

Ask An Expert is a question-and-answer column designed to address common questions related to forensic investigation and property damage. Each month we’ll feature one or two questions submitted by you – our readers and customers – and provide detailed, easy-to-understand answers. Email your questions to [email protected] or submit your questions here.


Q: How far away from a structure should trees be cleared to protect the structure?

Steven Kunkle, Fire Investigator: It varies by municipality based on the common foliage. Insurance companies and fire departments may also have their own requirements. These requirements may range from 35 feet to 100 feet. Trees must also be trimmed up from the ground, generally one third of the height of the tree.

Q: Should sampling be recommended in all cases where the foundation may be fire damaged?

John Miller, Principal Consultant and Forensic Engineer: If a visual inspection finds no evidence of fire damage to the foundation, testing would not be necessary. If fire damage is observed to the foundation, an expert should study the foundation and determine if testing is warranted. In some cases, the expert would determine the damage is too extensive and testing is not needed.

Q: What are the effects of fire damage to asbestos material? Can asbestos materials be transferred via wind?

Mr. Kunkle: Fire may break up asbestos and make it friable. Yes, asbestos can be transferred by wind. The presence of asbestos can be determined through testing.

Q: In a 1998 fire in Florida one home was sprayed with fire retardant and completely survived the fire while the ones around it were totally destroyed. Is this a valid chemical for use as fires approach? Has it been used elsewhere?

Mr. Kunkle: Absolutely, this method for protecting structures is being used more and more. It requires some set up and cannot be applied quickly as a fire approaches. Large quantities are needed, and it can be expensive.



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About the Experts

Mr. Steven Kunkle joined Donan in 2017 as a Fire Investigator based out of the firm’s Los Angeles, California office. Mr. Kunkle’s areas of expertise are origin and cause fire investigations for structural, vehicle, and wildland fires. He is a Certified Fire Investigator, a Certified Fire and Explosion Investigator, a Certified Vehicle Fire Investigator, a Certified Evidence Collection Technician, and a Certified Hazardous Materials Technician. Mr. Kunkle has a Bachelor’s degree in Behavioral Science from National University and an Associate degree in Business Management from Mesa College. He also serves as an instructor for courses in fire investigation, fire technology, fire safety, survival, equipment and systems.

View Steven’s full professional profile here.

Mr. John Miller joined Donan in 2009 and currently serves as a forensic engineer and principal consultant based out of the firm’s Louisville, Kentucky office. Mr. Miller has worked in the following industries: bridge design and inspection, bridge and highway structure inspection, highway design and home construction and remodeling. His area of expertise is structural engineering with an emphasis on structural damage from impact, wind and flood. Mr. Miller’s project capabilities also include a wide range of civil and structural investigations including hail damage, foundation damage and the causes of water intrusion. Mr. Miller is a licensed professional engineer in Alabama, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas. He earned his Bachelors degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Kentucky.

View John’s full professional profile here.

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