Wildfire Prevention- Philadelphia Insurance Companies

The Real Risk of Wildfires and Steps to Protect Your Organization

The concept of a fire season is going up in smoke as the effects of climate change and phenomena such as La Nina cause disastrously dry conditions, unseasonal heat, and extended wind events. These factors culminate into what is becoming more and more common -- wildfires burning earlier and for longer. "California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) is trying to get away from calling it a fire season because that doesn't make sense anymore. It's really now more of a fire year," Cecile Juliette, CAL FIRE public information officer, told ABC News in January.

The National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) reports that as of May 4th, "22,530 wildfires have burned 1,137,556 acres nationally. This continues to be above the 10-year average of 16,444 wildfires that burned 707,597 acres." And while some may equate wildfire risk with areas of the country that have arid climates, such as California or Arizona, the reality is wildfires are a danger all over the country. In fact, Georgia, Texas, North Carolina, and Florida are among the states with the highest number of wildfires.

The pandemic also gives people and businesses new obstacles to address while planning their wildfire prevention response. This includes the added exposure of properties being left unoccupied and possibly less protected, due to measures taken to slow the spread of the virus.

Now more than ever, Philadelphia Insurance Companies encourages policyholders to learn more about this exposure to keep people safe and prevent structural damage.

What is a wildfire?

A wildfire, also known as a forest fire, vegetation fire, grass fire, brush fire, or bushfire (in Australasia), is an uncontrolled fire often occurring in wildland areas, but which can also consume houses or agricultural resources.

These fires can attack a building in three different ways:

  1. Flying embers are blown by the wind and ignite combustible external elements. This is the most common method
  2. Fire spreads from a bush to the walls of a structure
  3. Radiant heat from high flames around a building causes the structure to reach an auto-ignition point

When the fire hazard is high, it is important to keep a clear defensible space.

A defensible space is a buffer created between a building and the surrounding grass, brush, trees, shrubs, or any other woodland area. This space helps slow or even stop a fire from spreading to the building.

PHLY recommends there be a minimum clearance of 300 feet for grass and brush fire exposure and a minimum of 500 feet for forest fire exposure.

Some things to keep in mind:

  • Established roadways provide engineered features to offer some barrier and allow access for firefighting personnel, fire-mitigation efforts, and evacuation.
  • Skylights and gutters are not favorable building characteristics as combustible debris can get trapped in them.
  • Water accessibility greatly affects the ability to fight a fire.
  • The construction of the building or type of roof is also important. Preferred roofs are non-combustible, pre-cast, poured, concrete, slate, metal, or composite.

Recommendations for protecting businesses from wildfire damage

PHLY has many recommendations to help protect businesses, including:

  • Create and maintain defensible space around your property
  • Strategically place fire-resistant plants outside the building to resist the spread of fire
  • Cover chimneys with a screen
  • Ask your utility company to trim trees away from power lines
  • Check conditions of fire extinguishers within the property
  • Practice fire drills and emergency evacuation
  • Note the location of the closest fire hydrant or water supply

Click on the button below for more details on defensible space, fire-safe landscaping, and other mitigation techniques:

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Protecting your drivers and your fleet

Buildings are not the only elements of your organization that need to be protected. Once a wildfire has been declared near your area of operations, it's important to keep track of where your employees and vehicles are in relation to the danger. Global positioning system (GPS) devices and their software can be a powerful tool in planning, managing, and responding to operational changes needed to keep drivers safe and vehicles protected. These telematics systems could include features such as:

  • Geofencing: The system sends an alert if a vehicle enters or leaves a set area (geofence)
  • Live Map Feed: See where vehicles on the system are located in real time on a map
  • Landmarks: Receive an alert if a vehicle approaches a set address within a given radius
  • Unauthorized Usage: Set specific times vehicles are allowed to be on the road, and get alerts if a vehicle is turned on outside of the authorized time

PHLYTrac is PHLY's telematics solution that includes all of these features and many more. This service is provided to insureds with auto coverage at no additional cost.

Additional Resources

IMPORTANT NOTICE - The information and suggestions presented by Philadelphia Indemnity Insurance Company are for your consideration in your loss prevention efforts. They are not intended to be complete or definitive in identifying all hazards associated with your business, preventing workplace accidents, or complying with any safety related, or other, laws or regulations. You are encouraged to alter them to fit the specific hazards of your business and to have your legal counsel review all of your plans and company policies.

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