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Protecting your business from wildfire
March 20, 2018
Wildfires in the western U.S. have been increasing in frequency and duration since the mid-1980s, posing a significant threat to buildings and lives. According to the Insurance Information Institute, about 9.8 million acres were burned throughout the U.S. from wildfires during 2017, compared with 5.4 million in 2016. Further, 2017 ranked higher in number of acres burned compared to the 10-year average. In order to protect buildings from wildfires, IBHS recommends that business protection plans take into account both the materials and design features of the building, as well as the selection, location and maintenance of landscape plants. Three sources of wildfire ignition IBHS explains that building ignitions during wildfires are normally due to burning embers, direct flame contact or radiant heat. Burning embers and wind-blown embers that are generated by a wildfire are the most frequent cause of building ignitions and can travel for long distances before landing on or near a building. Embers can ignite buildings as a result of embers igniting combustible construction materials or nearby plants/accumulated debris, or by embers entering a building through openings and igniting combustible items inside the building. Wildfire damage via direct flame contact occurs when flames from the fire come into contact with buildings or combustible items attached to or near the building. Radiant heat emanating from the fire can also ignite a combustible product or break the glass in a window.What can you do?Know your fire hazard severity zoneOrganizations should determine their wildfire hazard through receiving a Fire Hazard Severity Zone (FHSZ) rating. This includes an evaluation of the landscape, fire history in the area and terrain features such as slope of the land. Organizations can request the FHSZ rating from local building or fire officials in their area.
Address building vulnerabilitiesBusinesses should also assess their building’s construction (roofs, windows, vents, exterior walls) and the area surrounding the structure (trees and plants). From an ember exposure perspective, the roof is the most vulnerable part of a building. Fire ratings for roof coverings are either Class A, B or C (or, in the case of a non-fire-retardant- treated wood shake covering, not rated). IBHS recommends a Class A covering. For low-slope roofs, a Class A-rated roof cover includes testing and rating of the entire roof system assembly, which includes the roof cover, insulation, vapor or air barriers, and the type of deck. There are a number of Class A-rated steep-slope roof coverings, including asphalt composition shingles, clay tile and steel.
Businesses can reduce the vulnerability of windows by utilizing dual-paned windows with tempered glass, and ensuring a screen covers sections of the window that open. At a minimum, vents should be covered with 1/8-inch noncombustible mesh screening to minimize the size of embers that can enter into the attic or crawlspace area. For exterior walls, noncombustible siding materials such as concrete and brick will provide the greatest fire protection from flames, embers, and radiant heat. The distance between the ground and the bottom of the siding on the exterior wall affects a building’s vulnerability, particularly when walls are made of materials that can ignite. The building code generally calls for 6 inches of clearance between the ground and the start of the siding.
Create defensible pace and have a vegetation management planCreating a defensible space zone around the building will reduce the risk of fire. According to IBHS, a defensible space is the area between a building and an approaching wildfire, where plants and trees have been managed to reduce the wildfire threat and improve the likelihood of a building surviving without assistance from firefighters. Defensible space is discussed in terms of zones and each zone has recommendations for specific types of plants and how they should be grouped and maintained. For more information on creating defensible space around your business and an explanation of each “zone”, click here.
Both naturally occurring plants and species introduced into an area influence the potential for fire to spread to buildings located on the property—with some plants, like junipers, being more likely to ignite than others. A Vegetation Management Plan (VMP) may be required in certain wildfire-prone areas. This looks at topography, location of building on land, proposed fuel treatment details and environmental concerns. When developing a VMP, consult a landscape professional such as a forester, range manager, or natural resource specialist.
XL Catlin’s Property Risk Engineering/GAPS team can assist you with your property loss prevention any time of the year. For additional information on preventing wildfire-related losses at your facility, please contact one of our Property Risk Engineering Leaders. To view your wildfire risk by region, click here.