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Protecting commercial property against wildfire damage
August 02, 2019
Is California on fire? For those of us who were either born or raised in California, it can seem that way. Wildfires in the West and South West are getting bigger, hotter, deadlier and more destructive every year. Fire season now starts sooner and lasts well beyond the traditional “season,” which typically ran from June to October, and the impact continues to grow.
Record breaking 2018 season
According to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) and the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC), the 2018 wildfire season was the deadliest and most destructive on record in California. As a result, a national disaster was declared in Northern California. There were a total of 8,527 fires burning an area of 1,893,913 acres — the largest amount of burned acreage recorded in a fire season. The fires resulted in approximately 18,000 structures being lost, $3.5 billion in damages, including $1.792 billion in fire suppression costs and 104 fatalities.
What’s fueling the increase?
According to experts, a combination of numerous factors led to the California 2018 wildfire season becoming so devastating. First, an increased amount of natural fuel available, associated atmospheric conditions linked to global warming and more people living in fire-prone wildlands. Several studies have also indicated that climate change contributes to droughts, which means less water and drier conditions leading to more combustible vegetation. Add to the mix that there have been record-breaking heat waves and you’ve got a cocktail for disaster. Last but not least, the ignition source and unfortunately, we have plenty of those: humans. Humans have been the main cause of wildfires in California. Causes are various, both deliberate and unintentional, such as arson, fireworks both legal and illegal types, unattended campfires, cigarettes, cars, golf clubs (sparks created from metal clubs) and downed power lines.
Take action to protect your property against wildfire damage
So, how can these fires be minimized and mitigated? From the state and local levels, it is incumbent that they require the utility companies to update and better maintain their equipment, update firefighting equipment, ensure forest maintenance is being completed, require stricter building codes for those that decide to build and live in wildland area, including enforcement of defensible space. AXA XL Risk Consulting helps customers that are exposed to these wildland fires in several ways. Here are a few key recommendations known as a "coupled approach" to support building survival and reduce your wildfire risks:
- Create a defensible space: Defensible space is where landscaping vegetation is carefully planned, selected and located on the property, as well as routinely maintained. The spacing between grass, shrubs, and trees can be crucial to reduce the spread of wildfires. The spacing needed is determined by the type and size of brush and trees, as well as the slope of the land.
- Building materials: If new construction, make a careful selection of non-combustible construction materials. Ensure correct installation so that there are not gaps in siding or roofing that would allow embers to penetrate. If this is an existing location, review building and roof conditions, roof debris, including gutters, vents, skylights any potential gaps or openings that could allow embers or radiant heat to enter.
- Check water supply: The availability of a reliable water supply is critical and should be evaluated frequently, including proximity to public hydrants and the possible installation of private site yard hydrants. Companies should also consider the possibility of a secondary water supply, such as fire pump & tank. The overtaxing of city supplies was significant factor during the 2018 fire season.
- Pre-emergency planning: This should include a wildland preparedness checklist, including materials that should be maintained on hand, how to mitigate HVAC smoke intrusion, critical documents that may need to be removed and what to do after the fire to name a few.
- Stay informed: Both FEMA and NFPA provide a wide range of wildfire loss prevention resources to keep you updated on the latest wildfire threats across the US. Also, many states such as Colorado, Arizona and Texas have developed on-line portals that businesses and residents can utilize to assess the risk to their site. Check your local state website for additional wildfire tools.
We’re here to help protect your business
As the wildfire season continues, the risks will increase for businesses and properties in wildfire-prone states like California, Washington, Texas, Oregon, Colorado, and Arizona. The impact of wildfires goes beyond property damage. Fires can jeopardize the safety of employees and lead to business interruption. AXA XL’s Risk Consulting team is ready to help. We can help protect your business and get ahead of the next wildfire — at the local, national and global level. Together, we’ll work to identify where your biggest risks are and what actions you can take to reduce them — so that your business doesn’t become a statistic of the 2019 wildfire season.
About the author: Greg Dumansky is a Senior Loss Prevention Consultant based in California. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org