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Cutting cost of natural disasters: IBHS researchers examine wildfire demo

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RICHBURG, SC (WBTV) -

Last year, insurance companies dished out $58-billion in claims caused by natural disasters. That's the second most expensive year ever according to Homeland Security numbers.

In an effort to explore solutions to make the nation more resilient to natural disasters, researchers at the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS) held a home ignition demonstration, Tuesday.

Researchers at IBHS say embers are the greatest danger to homes during a wildfire and they put that to the test with a demonstration home that included mulch, shrubbery and even pine straw in the gutters.

With a flip of a switch, embers came spewing out of manmade pipes onto the test home, which quickly erupted into a ball of fire.

"The wildfire research, that we're doing at the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety Research Center, is going to help us find out what kind of self defense systems really are effective for homes," said IBHS President & CEO Julie Rochman.

The demonstration took place at the IBHS Research Center in Richburg and was followed by a roundtable discussion with US Congressional Delegates.

Rochman says the goal for Tuesday was simple… Teach home and business owners and public policy makers on how to break the cycle of destruction.

Researchers made the mock house as real as possible, including items you would typically see outside of a home such as vegetation, dirt and clogged gutters.

Once the embers started flowing it only took a matter of minutes before the shrubbery went up in flames, then the deck and siding.

"Because the embers were lit and this whole wall was engaged, probably within several minutes, this entire structure would have been gone," said Rochman.

Now, IBHS officials and public policy makers hope home and business owners can learn a lesson from Tuesday's event.

"Clean your gutters, get the stuff around from the base of your house, don't keep gasoline under the back deck. They seem like common sense after the fact, but it never occurred to me that pine straw against the side of my house might make my house more susceptible to fire," said SC Rep. Mick Mulvaney.

"We would like for people to walk around their property and identify those things that are vulnerabilities," said Rochman.

From Tuesday's demonstration, IBHS researchers will examine what role strong building codes play in reducing the costs of natural disasters.

They hope their findings can lead to building policy changes, so this type of damage won't happen to you.

Federal officials, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, home builders, and emergency management experts were also at the event to learn what can be done help cut costs from natural disasters.

Copyright 2013 WBTV. All rights reserved.

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