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Wildfires: What to Know About Preparation and Evacuation

By Amy Hahn, Property Loss Control Engineer


Wildfires: What to Know About Preparation and Evacuation

This year’s wildfire season has been one for the books. According to the National Interagency Fire Center, 41,051 wildfires occurred between January and September, compared with 35,386 wildfires in the same period in 2019. And 4.7 million acres have been burned this year, compared to 4.2 million in 2019. And wildfire season isn’t over yet, as firefighters work to combat the fires that have extended past California and into the Pacific Northwest.

While homes and businesses located in fire zones are generally aware of fire safety, many aren’t nearly as prepared as they should be. With this year’s wildfires making history, there is more need for education and proper preparation than ever. Fires spread more quickly than ever, so in this blog we share ways property owners should be preparing their homes, buildings, and evacuation plans right now.

Preparation

Before wildfire season starts, business and homeowners should imagine a 100-foot minimum radius around the property, which include the roof, porch/deck and patio. Within that radius, clean up dead plants and grass, debris, and anything dry that can ignite from falling embers. Green plants don’t typically catch on fire as quickly due to their moisture content. Ideally these tactics would be a part of regular maintenance routines, especially those in dry areas but, as this year has taught us, the same precautions should be taken in states that don’t historically have a wildfire season.

Flying embers are the biggest threat during a wildfire and the main cause of fires jumping from building to building. During preparation, look for openings into the building where embers could enter and smolder, which will eventually ignite into a fire. Examples of areas to check include roof edge gutters filled with debris, roof edge openings, attic openings, gaps around window trim, and the chimney flue.

Even if a wildfire hasn’t hit your region, stay in the know and sign up for your local emergency services resource. Watch the news and create a plan for evacuation just in case. Additionally, if employees are working from home during the pandemic, it’s still important to keep up with building maintenance to prepare for possible wildfires. Make sure to visit the property regularly to ensure your home or business is safe and ready.

Lastly, it’s important to make sure your insurance policy is updated and that you’re informed of what’s covered. In preparation for the fire, take photos and videos of your assets, especially the valuable ones, in case you need to submit a claim. This will make the recovery efforts much easier.

Evacuation

When you get the call to evacuate, it can be a stressful and forgetful time. What do I bring? How can I get my employees to safety? How can I protect my home or business once I leave it? Prepare a list of necessities and what you want to bring.

Move furniture that sits against external walls into the center of the building and remove hanging, loose flammable material from the exterior walls. This way, the heat from outside is less likely to ignite objects on the wall or furniture, which may start a fire inside. Take curtains and plastic blinds off windows and close metal shutters for an extra layer of protection.

Shut off the gas supply and move anything involving gas or propane tanks as far away as possible. Anything combustible should be removed from that 100-foot radius around the property. Turn off the water to allow firefighters access to a full water supply.

Now, what to bring? Make sure important documents like deeds and records are in an easy spot to grab and go. Back up important data on an external hard drive which is small and easy to bring. Consider an automated cloud back-up service. Ensure that you take personal and irreplaceable memorabilia and family heirlooms.

Lastly, make sure you have the phone number for your insurance company and be prepared to recover what you may lose.

Businesses and homes located in high-risk areas should take extra steps ahead of the known wildfire season (August to November). Even in the off-season, keep up with outside cleanup, building preparation, and evacuation planning. Wildfire exposure should be part of further projects (such as renovations, expansions, etc.) to implement physical protection, such as non-combustible material usage, fire resistant vegetation, etc.
 

Want to learn more?

Find me on LinkedIn, here.

Connect with the Risk Strategies Private Client team at proliability@risk-strategies.com.

Email me directly at ahahn@risk-strategies.com.


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