As wildfires rage in California and elsewhere in tinder-dry areas of the US, now more than ever you need to make sure that your business is protected from the threat.
Whether you own or operate an apartment complex, convenience store, office, motel, restaurant or other retail establishment, the steps you take now will reduce the risk of costly repairs or rebuilding if a wildfire strikes.
If you are located in one of the many tinder-dry areas this year, you need to consider the possibilities that fires can start near your business – and, if so, are you prepared to deal with a fire and keep your business operating? In this article we look at how you can protect your structure in case of wildfire.
Surroundings most important
The goal of an effective wildfire protection plan is to keep the fire from coming dangerously close to any structure on the property. Wind-driven embers from a fire, not the flames, are the biggest threat to properties during a wildfire. Once these embers land on a combustible material, the potential for the wildfire to spread is significantly greater.
Inspect the premises around your building to see if there is anything around or attached to a structure that can be a potential wick that could allow the fire to come dangerously close to your premises.
This might include a storage shed, newspapers or product display rack, playground equipment or containers used to store cleaning products.
Storage buildings, trash bins, equipment and other combustible items can allow fire to reach the building. When possible, relocate these at least 30 feet from the business and other structures on the property.
Relocate propane (LP) tanks at least 30 feet away from the building and other structures on the property. If relocation is not an option, create a 10-foot zone around a tank using low-combustible materials such as rock, gravel mulch or irrigated lawn. An alternative solution is to enclose the tank using noncombustible materials.
Also, make sure that you are taking care of areas around your building in three different zones:
Zone 1 (0-5 feet): This zone requires the most careful selection of vegetation and other materials. The objective is to reduce the chance that ignited vegetation or other combustible materials will be able to reach the building. Rock or gravel mulch and low-growing plants or lawns are good choices for this zone.
Avoid plants in this area that:
- Generate ground litter from bark, leaves, or seeds that slough off.
- Have (very low moisture content) dead material within the plant.
- Have small branches and needles that can easily ignite.
- Have a high resin or volatile content
Zone 2 (5-30 feet, or to the property line):
Consider having a vegetation island in this area, as it makes it difficult for fire to reach the building by burning through a continuous path of vegetation. Lower branches in trees should be pruned and nearby shrubs removed.
Doing this can slow down and reduce the energy of a wildfire, and reduce the risk that vegetation will ignite and generate embers that could be blown onto roofs or into vents.
Zone 3 (30-100 feet, or to the property line): While further away from the structure, this zone should still be kept tidy to prevent the spread of a wildfire. Thin out small vegetation between trees. Tree canopies should not touch, in order to prevent the fire traveling from tree to tree.
Choose noncombustible building materials when rebuilding or renovating, and particularly if you are choosing new siding for your structure. You should also consider these most important flashpoints and conduits for fires:
- Roofing – Choose a Class A fire-rated roof covering, and keep the roof and gutters clear of debris. Businesses that share a roof are particularly vulnerable if the entire building is not well maintained.
- Vents – Attic and crawl space vents are vulnerable entry points for wind-driven embers. Cover with 1/8-inch metal mesh screens.
- Attachments – Awnings, decks, patios and porches also can act as a wick, bringing flames to the building. Even if you have noncombustible siding like stucco, a burning deck or other ignited combustible items close to the wall will provide a direct flame exposure to the doors, windows or sliding glass doors.
- Windows – Radiant heat from a wildfire can break single-pane windows. You should install dual-pane windows with tempered glass for increased protection.
Also, open windows can be entry points for embers. Educate tenants and employees about the importance of closing all windows before evacuating if fires draw near.
- Have plenty of fire extinguishers on location, and get them inspected regularly.
- Back up important documents that could be destroyed.
- Have an evacuation plan in place to safely exit the building in case of a wildfire.
- Practice your evacuation plan, so each employee will know how to exit the building calmly and safely.
- Follow local smoke detector and sprinkler system ordinances.
- Have flashlights and extra batteries available in case your business loses electricity.
Your property insurance will generally cover damage from fires, but damage can also affect the operations of your business. Hence, it’s important that you also consider business interruption coverage, which will pay for any lost revenues that you may incur as a result of an interruption.