One of the misconceptions about home loss during wildfires is that the loss occurs as the main body of the fire passes. Research and on-the- ground observation during wildfires have both shown that the main flame front moves through an area in a very short time: anywhere from 1 to 10 minutes, depending on the vegetation type (Butler et al. 2003; Ramsay and Rudolph 2003). Homes do not spontaneously ignite—they are lost as a result of the growth of initially small fires, either in or around the home or building.
The wildfires that are clearly remembered by the general public are those where hundreds of homes are lost. During these events, many homes are lost because the wildfire becomes an urban fire, where the home- to-home spread of fire becomes more significant than wildland-to-home spread of fire, especially with decreasing separation between homes (Cohen 2008; Institute for Business and Home Safety 2008). FIRE SAFE San Mateo's Hardening Your Home Against Wildfire page provides useful information to homeowners explaining the realities of wildland-to-home fire spread, the vulnerabilities of specific components of the house, how they are vulnerable to wildfire, and material and design options to improve the ability of your home to survive.