What Can Businesses Do to Mitigate Risk during a Wildfire?
Although the devastating Camp Fire is now 100% contained, we are nowhere close knowing the full extent of the damage or how many people have died or become injured due to the wildfires. As of November 26h, the death toll for the historically destructive “Camp Fire” in Northern California alone is 85, and that number, sadly, may go up as there are some people that are still missing. The Camp Fire being contained is good news, but the overall picture should not be celebrated.
This has been one of the deadliest and most destructive years for wildfires in California, and it is not an anomaly. Households and businesses in areas of risk must have a fire preparedness strategy in place to mitigate the threat as much as possible.
From the beginning of the year to the first week of September, there were 46,765 wildfires in the United States, totaling about seven million in burned acres. In addition to California, Western Colorado, British Columbia, and other parts of the west have experienced significant wildfire seasons this year. However, we are also seeing wildfires burn globally in places you might not expect to see, like Sweden and Wales.
There are a number of reasons why wildfires are burning at a heightened rate. Dead forests affected and destroyed by the pine beetle as well as hot and dry weather conditions with wind create the perfect environment for a wildfire to ravage an area. According to the National Park Service, around ninety percent of wildfires are caused by humans. The most common causes include discarded cigarette butts, unattended campfires, and intentional arson.
Preparing Your Business for a Fire
In 2017, the U.S. government spent more than $2.5 billion combating forest fires. While this number sounds like a lot of money, it’s only the tip of the iceberg when you consider the true economic impact of wildfires. A Department of Commerce analysis from last November that reviewed direct costs for structure losses and rebuilding as well as indirect costs, such as business interruption and tourism decline, said that the total cost of wildfires per year could be anywhere from $71.1 billion to $347.8 billion.
Wildfires can significantly impact businesses in their path by destroying property, equipment, and other business assets. More importantly, they may also threaten employee safety, which is why it’s imperative for businesses to have a fire preparedness plan in place to mitigate these risks as much as possible.
Although it’s impossible to have any control over where and when a wildfire might occur, you can implement a fire safety strategy to protect your business and prepare against the worst.
Interstate Restoration, a privately owned Texas-based emergency response and general restoration contractor, recommends that businesses stay up to date on any active wildfires and closures through local news and social media channels. This is especially important during the summer months when the risk of wildfires is heightened.
According to a blog post written by Interstate’s Director of Safety, John Hogan, here are a few things to keep in mind regarding fire preparedness and having a fire response plan:
Commercial facilities should implement fire protection strategies, like installing fire glass in windows and doors, adding closures or shutters to entry points of the building, and preparing and maintaining adequate firebreaks and green spaces.
A fire response plan should outline where the location of the sprinkler shut off valves are as well as any major HVAC, piping, gas, and water lines to help responders control the situation. If there are any vulnerable building components, these should be noted as well.
Businesses should practice basic fire safety protocols, like marking emergency exits, adhering to all building codes, regularly scheduling sprinkler system and smoke detector tests, etc.
Additionally, Interstate Restoration offers a disaster recovery template to provide business owners with the basics on how to build a comprehensive plan. If a fire does strike, Interstate says the business should initiate the fire recovery process right away, which will include a safety assessment, securing the property, and damage assessment once restoration experts can get into the building.