Wildfire Season Forecast and Preparation
The 2020 wildfire season shattered records across several western states with more than 4.3 million acres burned in California alone, a number greater than twice the state's previous record. Colorado experienced four of its largest fires in the state's history, over one million acres burned in six wildfires in Oregon, and Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming all set new state wildfire records. Unfortunately the outlook for 2021 is equally grim. AccuWeather's wildfire forecast predicts 9.5 million acres will be burned across the western states in a season that may be devastating in both intensity and length.
Wildfires are unplanned events that burn in forest, grassland, prairie, or other natural areas. Lightning can trigger burns, but they are frequently initiated by humans through intentional or unintentional means. Wildfire is a serious concern for businesses across the country and one of the costliest causes of loss for property owners and insurance carriers.
It is critical for property owners to adopt a mindset of pre-wildfire mitigation. In other words, take steps now to reduce potential property damage and other insurance claims in the event of a wildfire. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends the following steps to prepare for wildfires.
Up-to-the minute information is vital in situations where conditions may change rapidly. Wildfires are dynamic events that may change direction and speed without warning. Community warning systems and outlets such as the Emergency Alert System (EAS) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather Radio provide current information. It is also important to know your community's evacuation plan.
Make a Plan
In the event of a fast-moving wildfire, employees and customers at a business may need to evacuate the premises. Planning ahead includes creating a detailed plan that identifies multiple evacuation routes and gathering emergency supplies including N95 respirator masks. It is also wise to take the time to drive the planned evacuation routes and make notes of landmarks since visibility may be limited during a wildfire event. Once the plan is established, employees should be provided training to familiarize them with the routes, supplies, and safety protocols.
Create and Maintain a Defensible Space
Doing everything possible to keep fire from spreading to a property is one of the most important steps in pre-wildfire mitigation. Fire-resistant materials are a wise choice for construction, renovation, repairs, and outdoor furnishings such as benches, tables, and signs or decorations. A water defense can be set up using sprinklers and hoses that can reach all areas of the property. In terms of landscaping, establish vertical and horizontal defensible zones by thinning shrubs and trees to create space, ensuring that the crowns do not overlap, and removing low tree branches to separate branches overhead from grass and shrubs. The goal is to create a primary defensible zone by eliminating all leaves, debris, and flammable material within 30 feet of buildings and removing combustible debris from roofs and gutters. This space must be inspected regularly with ongoing maintenance performed to maintain this defensible zone. Pre-wildfire mitigation steps as described above can also make a difference in an insurance carrier’s underwriting decision to offer a new business quote or a renewal quote.