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September 22, 2020

How to Mitigate the Damages of a Wildfire for Your Business

wildfire preparedness

Every year wildfires rage, threatening, damaging and, far too often, destroying homes and businesses throughout the nation. In California alone so far this year, wildfires have put an estimated $120 billion worth of commercial properties at risk.

Although you may not be able to stop wildfires from occurring, there are measures you can take to reduce the risk of your business being destroyed by a fire. While no property is fireproof, the goal is to prevent your business and property from being a fuel source. Planning your landscape, using proper building materials, implementing adequate protection systems and having a financial disaster fund are proactive steps in laying the groundwork for the safety and protection of your property.

Considerations for Protecting Your Property from Fire Risks

Landscaping

It is an unfortunate fact that a high percentage of businesses ignite after the strongest part of the wildfire has passed due to smoldering leaves, grass or brush. Ask your property management company about steps they have taken to protect the building from wildfire damage in their landscaping selections. Some things that can help include using non-highly flammable plants and trees, pruning, and keeping the ground clear and the grass short. Consider creating a natural fire break for your property. This is usually a 10-foot-wide gap in vegetation or other combustible material that acts as a barrier to slow or stop the fire’s progress.

Building Materials

There are many updates and small renovations you can make to your property to help combat fire. The absolute key, however, is to understand the unique ways fire could attack your property. This helps determine which sides of the business should be fire-proofed first.

The following are business renovation ideas to help reduce the risk of wildfire damage:

1. Windows: Windows are the weakest link in your property. Heat alone can break and shatter your windows whether or not there are flames close to your property. A safe alternative to the standard pane window is double glazing your windows with tempered glass on the exterior. Roll-down metal fire doors that can be built into the roof overhangs are also strong defenders against heat and fire.

2. Doors: The standard wood door typically provides 20 minutes of fire protection. For extra safety and more time, consider replacing your wood door for one with a metal core. If your business has garage doors, metal-panel garage doors can help reduce the risk of wildfire damage.

3. Roofs: According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), roof materials should be compiled of noncombustible coverings that are Class A rating, such as metal or asphalt. Additionally, be sure to regularly have gutters and downspouts cleaned; this will decrease fuel for the fires. 

4. Vents: Ensure that your bathroom, kitchen and dryer vents have automatic backdraft dampers and fire-rated assemblies. Metal sleeves and hoods need to cover all plastic plumbing vents where they penetrate your roof.

Fire Protection Systems

Having proper systems in place to detect and combat fire is also crucial. Ensure they are installed correctly, and regularly maintained and tested as recommended or required by relevant regulatory agencies such as the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Here are some of the systems you should have in place to alert workers of fire danger and help stop the spread:

1. Fire alarms: At a minimum, you should have a properly designed, approved and installed fire alarm system to alert occupants. Today’s systems may also notify the fire service or building maintenance, control other fire safety devices and even provide data to fire respondents.

2. Fire extinguishers: Fire extinguishers are an essential safety tool in your workplace. Be sure to follow compliance standards to ensure your company and employees are protected.

3. Sprinklers: For early fire control and extinguishment, your building needs properly designed, approved, installed and maintained sprinklers. Sprinklers help to mitigate the fire hazard to both occupants and firefighters.

4. Emergency power: Depending on your building and fire codes, you may need to have a backup power system. Emergency power system features include illuminated exit signs, emergency lighting, fire alarm and detection systems, occupant-egress elevators, and electric fire pumps.

Financial Preparedness

Disaster can strike at any time, so it is wise to prepare your business for the worst-case scenario. Now is a good time to review and update your disaster and business continuity plansTake the time to review your insurance policy and update your coverage.

Help mitigate risks by making digital copies of your property’s inventory. Don’t forget to save the receipts for major purchases or updates to your real estate. Ensure important documents, such as mortgage and insurance information, are stored electronically as well as in a fire-safe lock box. Take the time to video or photograph each room, including the closets and possibly inside drawers. Having a complete and accurate inventory will make recovery easier. 

Have a Plan

OSHA requires that any business with more than ten employees has a written Emergency Action Plan. It should include an evacuation plan for your employees and visitors with a designated meeting place. Make sure the evacuation route is easily accessible; outlines where to go, how to get there and what to take; and how to communicate with each other. To help develop your plan, check out our Disaster Preparedness Guide.

As always, monitor the conditions where your property is located and prepare employees if there is a high risk of wildfires reaching your business. Close all windows, doors and blinds, and leave the lights on in the building to aid firefighters. If your business is in an evacuation area and you are advised to leave, act immediately.

Your property is one of your largest assets. Set yourself up for recovery after a disaster. Ensure that you have adequate insurance coverage to prepare for disasters like wildfires by speaking with a member of our team today.

Disaster Prep Guide graphic

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