Wildfires continue to threaten North America on unprecedented levels. In 2018, U.S. wildfires pushed disaster costs to $24 billion.1 In Canada, wildfires burned nearly 1.35 million hectares (over 3.3 million acres) in British Columbia alone, setting a new and unfortunate record.2
Although wildfires in the Western U.S. and Canada grab the most headlines, the reality is that these severe weather events can occur anywhere on the continent. No business is immune.
While it is impossible to make any property completely fire-proof, taking some practical steps can help mitigate this growing threat.
Have a plan
Develop an emergency plan that addresses actions to take before, during and after a wildfire to protect your business, including:
- Organize an internal work team to collaborate with firefighters.
- Conduct a business impact analysis to assess business resiliency.
- Review shutdown and evacuation processes, including data backup, as well as shipping important tools, dies and records offsite.
- Develop a business continuity plan to mitigate the impact of a wildfire.
Don’t forget: Monitor for wildfires year-round.
Help firefighters help you
Make it as easy as possible for them to do their job:
- Create a pre-incident checklist that includes information about your facility, such as building layout, description of occupancies, and alarm and fire-protection systems.
- Maintain site entrances and ensure they’re clearly marked.
- Provide and clearly identify water sources, including fire hydrants, swimming pools, water storage tanks, wells and ponds.
Don’t forget: Make sure entrances to your facility are large enough to accommodate emergency vehicles.
Get everyone involved
Effective pre-wildfire planning includes interaction with local authorities as well as your employees to develop and fine-tune pre-wildfire strategies, which can include:
- Scheduling regular inspections by the fire department to ensure they are up to date on your pre-incident checklist and any changes in your facility.
- Developing an evacuation plan and regularly scheduling fire drills to assess time, staff and resource needs.
Don’t forget: Good evacuation plans are key. Only when life safety efforts are completed will firefighters be able to direct their efforts toward property preservation.
Minimize the fire from spreading
Wildfires spread by following a continuous path of combustibles. Wind-borne embers also present a threat. Steps you can take to minimize the danger:
- Have sufficient open space free of vegetation and other combustibles between your business and any nearby forest.
- Invest in exterior building surfaces that are either noncombustible or considered resistant to ignition by embers.
- Consider outside sprinklers for exposure protection.
- Limit yard storage. Remove flammable items, vehicles and, especially, propane tanks from the property or move them at least 100 feet (30 meters) away from the building.
- Close and seal building openings with tight-fitting, non-combustible materials.
- Shut down building air intakes.
- Turn off unnecessary utilities.
- Install tight-fitting, noncombustible doors, shutters and/or dampers that can be closed when implementing your wildfire plan.
- Fully close and seal windows and doors, including garage doors.
Don’t forget: Dry vegetation helps fire grow. Keep flames at bay by mowing your property’s grass and irrigating the landscaping.
Recognize the danger of smoke and soot
Wildfires can produce plumes of smoke that spread far in advance of the fire itself, causing damage to a building even if flames never reach it. Smoke and soot damage from wildfires has resulted in multi-million dollar losses, often by being sucked into buildings when HVAC systems are operating or reactivated after a fire. To minimize the impact:
- Find ways to keep soot and smoke from entering. For example, install louvers that automatically close when they’re not being used.
- Have a plan in place to shut down HVAC systems when necessary.
- Provide non-combustible covers for HVAC openings that can withstand high winds and contact with small items.
- Provide a way to automatically stop air intake fans upon smoke detection.
Don’t forget: After a fire, all HVAC systems should be examined, surface areas cleaned and filters replaced before resuming operation.
For more information on severe weather events, please visit: https://www.zurichna.com/en/knowledge/topics/severe-weather
1. Bartz, Kelsey. “Record wildfires push 2018 disaster costs to $91 billion.” Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. 27 February 2019. https://www.c2es.org/2019/02/record-wildfires-push-2018-disaster-costs-to-91-billion/
2. Judd, Amy. “Global BC’s top news story of 2018: Another record-setting wildfire season.” Global News. 31 December 2018. https://globalnews.ca/news/4805361/2018-record-setting-wildfire-season/