This year, the unusually warm, dry weather has produced conditions where wildfires have already threatened populated neighborhoods.
Take a brief look back in history, and you will quickly see the devastating effects of wildfires on many industrial and commercial enterprises. In 2007, wildfires in southern Greece consumed around 500,000 acres [2,000 square kilometers] of forest and olive groves. Around the same time, wildfires raged in southern California, involving 15 separate burn areas fed by gale-force winds, burning approximately 267,000 acres [1,080 square kilometers] stretching from Santa Barbara to the Mexico border.
This year, the unusually warm, dry weather has produced drought conditions in California, where fire has already threatened populated neighborhoods. Although wildfires are most frequent in the western part of the United States, all wooded, brush and grassy areas are vulnerable. Wildfire embers are super-heated particles and are not easily extinguished with water. We’ve even seen brush fires cross a 60-foot wide [18.2-meter] freeway.
How wildfires spread
There are three main ways in which a wildfire can spread to a building:
- Flying embers blown by wind can land on and ignite combustible building construction.
- Fire can spread from vegetation directly to the building walls.
- The heat generated from a brush fire can cause combustible building components to reach their auto ignition point.
You can prevent wildfires
The best way to mitigate the hazard of a wildfire is to create a “defensible space” or clearance zone, free from vegetation and outdoor storage, around buildings and structures. Generally, a clearance zone of 100 feet [30 meters] from a grassland exposure and 330 feet [100 meters] from a woodland or forest exposure should be maintained. For structures on steep slopes, the vegetation should be removed from 200 feet [61 meters] down the slope in order to create an adequate clearance zone.
What your clients can do at their facilities if they are near an active wildfire:
- Keep gutters free of debris.
- Cover vents with wire mesh to keep burning embers out.
- Treat wooden exterior walls with fire-retardant. There are several types of liquid fire retardant material that can be brushed or spread on wood exteriors.
- Remove all combustible yard storage.
- Develop a written contingency plan with the public fire service.
- Fully train and equip your emergency response team to deal with a wildfire emergency.
- Replace combustible roofing material with non-combustible roofing material.
- Create a clearance zone around buildings and structures, as noted above.
- Protect windows and frames with permanently fitted one-hour fire-rated shutters.
- Consider protecting any combustible exterior walls with outside sprinklers.
- Provide an adequate and reliable water supply to meet automatic sprinkler and hose stream demands.
- When a brush fire is in the vicinity, make sure all building openings are sealed to prevent smoke damage and prevent hot embers entering.
Above all else, make sure your clients’ fire protection systems are working. For information on how Affiliated FM can help evaluate and address the exposures at your clients’ facilities, contact your production underwriter or account engineer.
Note: Any examples provided are hypothetical and coverage depends on policy wording.