by Lindsay Frankel
It was well after midnight, and Dave Salemi was fast asleep in his home in Chester, a community on Kent Island just across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge in Maryland. “My wife woke up and said ‘Hey, I think someone’s ringing our doorbell,’” explains Salemi in an interview. Dazed, he didn’t think anything was wrong. But the flames next door shocked him awake.
“I looked out my back window… and there was this bright orange,” says Salemi. His home sits about 10 to 15 feet away from his neighbor’s, and all the garages are in the alleyway behind the houses. The fire appeared to be coming from the neighbor’s garage. “I just saw flames shooting up from the house next door.” Fortunately, he and his wife escaped without injury. From a safe distance away from his home, Salemi was able to capture photos of the remarkable outcome of the fire next door. “It was just unbelievable,” he says.
Safe from the Flames
The heat from the fire was intense enough to melt the vinyl shutters and soffits on Salemi’s home, yet his home did not catch fire. It had the protection of Hardie® fiber cement siding, which doesn’t ignite when exposed to a direct flame, nor does it contribute fuel to a fire. But just a few feet away, his neighbor’s garage was fully inflamed. Once safely outside the front of his home, Salemi looked back in between the houses and flames were shooting from the window above the neighbor’s garage.
Photo: The aftermath of the fire. The Salemi’s room above the garage with melted shutters and soffit, and window frame damage.
“Basically the whole garage next door, which is 10 or 15 feet from our house, just burned right down. The attached mudroom burned down, and then the fire started getting to the main house next door,” says Salemi. “It took them a while to get the fire under control, and by the time they did, our neighbor’s garage and mudroom were gone.” As the fire did penetrate one of the upstairs bedrooms of the house, water damage from the sprinklers and firefighter’s efforts to contain the blaze resulted in damage to the interior of the home.
Meanwhile, Salemi’s home was relatively unscathed with some soot-stained trusses and insulation as smoke seeped through soffits. But his home did not burn and the contents were safe. “It’s just amazing that there was no significant damage,” he says. “That night, the Fire Chief and I spoke for a few minutes, and he knocked on my Hardie® siding, and told me this is what saved our home and three or four others, He told me he called out five other engine companies, one up to an hour away, as he knew the homes in the community were built close together, but he didn’t know until that night, all houses were built using Hardie® siding, After hearing that, I counted my blessings that [Hardie® siding] was on our home, because if it wasn’t, we would have been rebuilding.”
A Believer in Hardie® Siding
Hardie® fiber cement products are noncombustible and have a Class A fire rating when tested in accordance with ASTM E84. “That should be probably the number one selling point of Hardie® Plank,” says Salemi, who feels fortunate that the developer chose the product. “Most people don’t think they’re going to have a fire,” he says. But it can happen to anyone.
Salemi says the origin of the fire was never officially determined, but noted that fire and insurance investigators focused on the electrical box in the neighbor’s garage. According to the NFPA, electrical issues are a common cause of fires, along with cooking accidents and problems with heating equipment. A growing share of homes are also in wildfire-prone areas, with one in six homes at risk. But no matter where you live, fire preparation is key to keeping your family safe. Working smoke alarms are a great start, but it’s a good idea to take other precautions as well. Since siding and soffit can be points of entry by exterior fires, it is important to consider installing materials with fire resiliency in mind at these key locations.
When Salemi replaced his siding, he chose Hardie® siding because it’s noncombustible. “I’m a big believer in the product,” he says. “Since the fire, we’ve gone and looked at other communities, and the first thing I do is get out and walk around the side of the house and look at the siding. If I don’t see Hardie® Plank, I’m out of there” says Salemi.
Photo: Fire started inside the garage, destroying the entire structure. While flames stripped the paint from the Hardie® siding, it never ignited.
A Durable Choice for Your Home
The noncombustibility property of fiber cement siding is widely known. Hardie® siding is recognized by fire departments nationwide*, and insurance companies may offer discounts to homeowners with Hardie® siding because they recognize the product won’t burn. Salemi had the opportunity to see Hardie® siding’s performance in action, and now he’s sharing his story with the hope it will help others stay safe from fires.
*Hardie® siding complies with ASTM E136 as a noncombustible cladding and is recognized by fire departments across the U.S. including Marietta, GA, Flagstaff, AZ and Orange County, CA. Fiber cement fire resistance does not extend to applied paints or coatings, which may be damaged or char when exposed to flames.
Salemi’s story is not the first to highlight the fire resistance of Hardie® siding when compared to other siding materials. For example, a few California homes with Hardie® siding survived the Caldor fire, which ravaged the Grizzly Flats community.
If you want to see the durability of Hardie® siding for yourself, check out our fire demonstration video. And if you’re considering Hardie® fiber cement siding or soffit to defend your home, request a sample or a quote. Though no house can be completely fireproof, choosing fire-resistant siding is one way to help protect your home from serious damage in the event of an exterior fire.