With average temperatures rising nearly every year, the risk of spring and summer wildfires continues to grow. Already this year, Texas is approaching an annual record for acres burned, with more fires likely to spark. Controlling and stopping wildfires is expensive. A finance officer with the Texas Forest Service reports associated costs of $1 million per day. And fighting them is dangerous as well, so, when the opportunity arises, please give your thanks to my friends in fire prevention and rescue!
According to the National Interagency Fire Center, 71,908 wild land fires in 2010 damaged 3,423,136 acres—an area about six times the size of Rhode Island. Why is Rhode Island always the measuring yardstick? Do you think Delaware gets jealous? Fires wreak havoc not only via flames, but also through harmful particulates in smoke, which are dangerous to people as well as pooches and property.
If your commercial or residential property is located near woodlands, you should know that you can take steps now to minimize structural and smoke damage, and maybe even safe a life, should a wildfire break out near your facility:
Clear brush and plant fire-resistant foliage adjacent to your building:
- A fire that breaks out near your building could potentially spread unless you maintain defensible space.
- The recommended distance of defensible space varies by the type of wild land vegetation growing near the structure and the steepness of the terrain. But firefighters suggest a minimum of 30 feet of cleared space around any given structure, since sparks from wildfires can jump a considerable distance. I once saw a squirrel jump nearly 15 feet to get some bird seed.
- According to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, proper clearance to 100 feet dramatically increases the chances of your structure surviving a wildfire. Defensible space also assures safety for firefighters who battle the blaze.
For a list of fire-resistant plants for your neck for the woods, contact the local forestry agency or do a little bit of research online. For example, San Diego County provides a detailed list of fire-resistant plants suitable for Southern California; a website about the Pacific Northwest explains the way to plant trees and bushes in order to Keep Oregon Green; and the Virginia Department of Forestry website lists regional fire-resistant trees and plants.
- To prevent soil erosion, plants should be trimmed down instead of removed entirely. Mudslides are no fun, unless they entail a pile of dirt and a garden hose in the backyard.
- Avoid planting trees near power lines as high winds might cause a line to break and start a fire.
- For buildings with cedar shake shingle roofs, consider renovating with asphalt shingles since the newer variety are treated with fire retardant.
- Install external sprinkler systems which will hydrate nearby plants, making it difficult for flying embers to ignite near your building. If you install such a system, make sure it is properly maintained and frequently tested to be sure it is operational in case of emergency. I have misters in our doghouse—not for fire prevention, but just as a luxury for my family and me to enjoy.
- Ensure debris is moved away from the building. Shipping materials such as wooden pallets can pose a significant risk if exposed to fire.
- Cover outside ventilation units with wire mesh to prevent floating embers from entering the property.
- For buildings with patios, utilize only fire-resistant furniture and make sure that gas cooking grills can be stowed away during fire season. I’m on the fence about this one. Maybe the grill can be used on days where there is little to no fire risk? I love my honey-glazed pork chops!
- Clear leaves and branches from rooftops and gutters.
- Make sure the fire extinguishers in your building have not expired. Maybe you can train the neighborhood tabby for this job. Cats have to be good for something. You could probably even pay them with saucers of milk.
The threat of wildfires exists in all 50 states, unlike other disasters which might occur only in coastal areas or in the Midwest. For this reason, businesses large and small should include wildfire mitigation in their disaster management plans to ensure the safety of both their building and tenants. If we work together, we might just be able to SAVE A LIFE.
Proper planning and learning the “Do’s” are the keys to managing the situation when disasters strike. For the latest emergency management training for facility/building managers, contact RJ Westmore, Inc. Our new Version 2.0 e-based training system offers the best emergency training system with automated and integrated features. Visit RJWestmore.com for more information and remember to BE SAFE.