Wildfires: Before and After, How to Protect Your Agribusiness
Wildfires in the U.S. in 2017 burned an area roughly the size of Pennsylvania, Ohio and Maryland combined, devastating farms, ranches and livestock.1 Triggered by extreme weather, such as high temperatures and drought, wildfire “season” has been growing longer, bringing more fire activity and potential loss.2 That’s certainly good reason to do all you can to take steps that can help avoid the destruction that could come.
“Before wildfire season approaches, agribusinesses should take steps to protect the property they’ve worked hard to build,” said Scott Humphrey, a Travelers Risk Control professional. “Clearing away vegetation and creating open space around structures to defend against a fire can help protect buildings, crops and livestock.” Here’s guidance from Travelers Risk Control on some things you can do to be better prepared:
Reduce Your Risk from Wildfire
Well before a wildfire is in the area:
- Create a 30-foot safety zone (zone 1) and a 100-foot secondary zone (zone 2). The area around the perimeter of your buildings can serve as a defensible space in the event of a wildfire.3 Check with your local fire department for any specific local ordinances.
- In the 30-foot zone, remove all dead plants, grass and weeds, along with dead or dry leaves. Trim trees regularly to keep branches a minimum of 10 feet from other trees. Move wood piles out of this zone.
- In the 100-foot zone, cut or mow grass to a maximum height of four inches, and remove fallen leaves, needles, twigs, bark, cones and small branches.
- "Harden” your structure against fire. When building new or remodeling, consider using non-combustible and ignition-resistant materials on the exterior of buildings. This can help to limit ignitions from radiant heat and or burning “brand” – the chunks of burning material that can be driven by winds ahead of the wildfire.
- Consider if an external building sprinkler system is right for you. Consult with a sprinkler contractor to discuss the pros and cons of external sprinklers and whether they would help protect your property from wildfire.
- Practice your evacuation plan. Consider where employees should go and what they should bring with them. Plan several escape routes, in the event that roads are blocked.
- Create a business continuity plan. Consider alternative arrangements for continuing critical operations.
During a Fire Watch
- Remove any vegetative debris that may have collected on roofs and in gutters. This debris may be ignited by flying embers or burning brands.
- Consider treating your structure with fire retardant. Aqueous and gel coatings can be applied to building components. While coatings have shown some promise in helping to protect property, the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety recommends following other proven mitigation strategies, such as ember-resistant design features.
- Follow disaster plan/emergency shutdown practices. These should include equipment, machines, HVAC and other building systems.
After the Fire
- Leave certain tasks to the professionals. Some operations, such as utility restoration and cleaning up spills of hazardous materials, should only be conducted by properly trained workers.
- Be aware of post-fire hazards. Workers involved in cleanup operations should be equipped with proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), e.g. boots, gloves, mask. Also, be aware of unsafe structures and electrical hazards.
- Initiate business contingency plan. This might include moving and securing alternative storage for crops or stock, the transportation and sheltering of livestock while your facilities are under repair, and arrangements with other facilities in order to continue necessary operations.
- Any salvage opportunities. Crops or stock may be damaged but not a total loss. Consider if there’s any salvage value associated from damaged items.
Long before wildfire season, it’s also a good idea to understand the details of your insurance coverage, including your policy’s extra expense limits for additional costs you might have after a fire. Other expenses to consider may include renting new equipment, hiring temporary workers, and exposure mitigation activities before and during the threat of a fire.
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