Issue 111 - May 2021
Managing Property Exposures to Wildfire
Risk from wildfires remain a constant threat for many California JPIA members. While the risk increases during periods of little rain and high winds, significant increases in periods of dryness mean that these events can happen anywhere and anytime. California JPIA members must be prepared to minimize wildfire exposures that threaten personnel safety, property loss, and continuity of operations. For an in-depth analysis of wildfire exposures and risk management, download the California JPIA’s Wildfire White Paper from the Authority’s website.
The following are important steps that can be taken to enhance employee safety and minimize property losses from wildfires and related emergencies.
Manage Property Fire Risks and Defensible Space:
California law requires property owners to maintain up to 100 feet around a building as a defensible space buffer. Defensible space includes three zones that span from zero to 100 feet from a structure where critical steps should be taken to reduce landscape fuels and increase ember-resistance. Managing plant and hardscape materials in these zones through a site-specific property and vegetation maintenance plan is critical. Use the following steps to help in this process:
- Keep plants watered, trimmed, and pruned to avoid the accumulation of dried leaves and foliage that may act as a fuel source.
- Remove dead and dying weeds, grasses, plants, shrubs, trees, and other vegetative debris.
- Maintain trees and ensure that shrubs are in well-spaced groups. Tree crowns should be at least 10 feet apart. Remove all dead materials and prune tree limbs and branches up to 6 feet in the air.
- Choose hardscape like gravel, pavers, concrete, and other noncombustible mulch materials.
- Properly label and store flammable liquids, hazardous wastes, and other combustible materials away from the defensible space buffer or inside the facility.
- Regulate and carefully monitor the use of heat producing equipment, such as gas-powered weed eaters, in high-risk areas and during high-risk times of the day. These activities should be completed early in the morning and only when preventative measures can be taken in the event of a flare-up.
Protect Heating and Ventilation Systems:
Many wildfire-related property losses have involved heating and ventilation system contamination. The following steps can help reduce a wildfire’s impact on these systems:
- Install metal screens of 1/8” or finer across vents to block windblown embers from entering.
- Attempt to close attics, crawl spaces, and ventilation ducts in the event of a nearby wildfire to reduce the possibility of fire and smoke travelling throughout the building.
- Conduct regular inspections to ensure they are not damaged or compromised.
Develop a Wildfire Emergency Plan:
Develop a wildfire emergency plan for your agency to follow in an actual event. Start by discussing wildfire mitigation strategies with local fire authorities, focusing on key variables that impact your agency’s specific exposure. Various resources exist to assist in developing a Wildfire Emergency Plan and are in the resources section below. Specific elements that should be covered in the plan include:
- Conditions that will activate the plan
- Chain of command
- Emergency functions and who will perform them
- Evacuation procedures for agency-occupied facilities
- Community Evacuation routes
- Provisions for inspecting agency-owned facilities and infrastructure for vulnerabilities
- Provisions for managing property risks, such as maintaining defensible space and hardening infrastructure
California JPIA’s Wildfire Risk Management White Paper: In-depth analysis of wildfire-related risks
Cal/OSHA’s Regulation for Protecting Workers from Wildfire Smoke: CCR Title 8, Section 5141.1
California Office of Emergency Services Wildfire Recovery Resources: State-wide wildfire resources
Cal Fire’s Defensible Space Guidelines: Detailed information on managing your defensible space
Ready for Wildfire: Cal Fire’s wildfire resource website
Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA): Wildfire emergency planning resources
Cal/Fire’s Active Incident Archive: Up-to-date information on all statewide active incidents< Back to Full Issue Print Article