Wildfires can wreak havoc on buildings and surrounding property, and it’s only natural for affected businesses to seek a return to normalcy as soon as possible. However, just as the need to evacuate prior to a wildfire must be taken seriously, it is just as important to take necessary precautions when returning afterward.
The absence of active flames does not mean an absence of risk: Building integrity may be reduced, fire-protection systems may be impaired, and damaged utilities and other systems may present unexpected hazards. All of these issues must be safely addressed.
Zurich’s Risk Engineers share key practices to help affected businesses cope with the challenges after a wildfire. Some things to consider:
First-response steps when returning to a damaged facility and/or site may include:
- Only return to the site/building once cleared by the proper local authorities.
- Properly prepared and protected critical staff should follow a post-fire business resumption plan.
- Bring identification; wear protective gear that includes thick-soled footwear, leather gloves, a hard hat and mask; and have appropriate supplies on hand, including potable water, flashlights and extra batteries, as well as a camera to document conditions.
- Survey premises for hazards, including live electrical wires; broken glass or metal; flammable liquids or leaking fuel gases; flammable atmosphere in vapor space of flammable storage tanks; weakened power poles or trees/branches, and ash pits created by burning tree roots.
- Check for signs of fire and/or structural damage, especially to the ceiling, roof, windows and doors, as well as weakened hardscape/paved areas that could collapse.
- Verify the status of protective systems, including water supplies, fire sprinkler systems, fire pumps and alarms, and security systems.
- Manage impairments to property- protection systems.
Recovery phase tasks may include:
- Begin salvage as soon as possible to protect the facility, as well as identify damaged goods that can be saved.
- Plan and initiate repairs. Establish a prioritization list, and contact respective contractors as soon as possible.
- If the area surrounding your facility has been leveled by fire, consult with local experts on how to restore the land with fire-safe landscaping.
- Evaluate mechanical and electrical systems. Have qualified personnel check utility systems and hazardous processes before returning them to service. Clear roof and ground-level catch basins. Restore HVAC systems to maintain or restore building interior environment. Ensure all electrical equipment is checked for damage.
Business interruption is a given after a severe weather event. Some ways to help mitigate recovery efforts:
- Contact customers to advise them of potential interruptions.
- Advise suppliers to hold deliveries if not required, or if they cannot be properly received and processed.
The after effects of a wildfire can make the affected and surrounding areas vulnerable to flash floods and mudslides, including areas not damaged by the fire itself. After a wildfire, even modest rainstorms over burned areas can create substantial floodwaters that carry surface debris such as downed trees, boulders and gravel.1 With these risks in mind, businesses should address and/or implement pre-flood planning, even if they are located in areas typically considered safe from flooding.
To learn more about recovery and rebuilding strategies after a wildfire, download “After a Wildfire: Strategies to Help Businesses Recover.”
1 New Mexico State Forestry.“Floods Following Wildfire.” After Wildfire: A Guide for New Mexico Communities.