BC Wildfires: Safety, Risk Management, and Claims Considerations for Your Organization
As of July 11, 2017, more than 230 active B.C. wildfires have affected about 400 square kilometers of land and forced the evacuation of approximately 40,000 people. Conditions conducive to the spread of wildfires – including hot, dry temperatures and high wind gusts – are expected to continue, at least in the short-term. As a result, B.C. businesses in areas at risk of wildfires are urged to consider their safety first and evacuate affected areas as prudent and required.
If you are still operating your business, and it is deemed safe for you to do so for the time-being, there are some things that you can do to help lower the risk of damage to your property from wildfires.
Close to Your Business Property (within 10 metres):
- Remove any dry leaves, pine needles, woodpiles, or any other combustible materials that may be present. Make sure grass is mowed and watered.
- Move all vehicles from the site or drain fuel tanks for equipment that is not suitable for roads. (Mowers, snow plows etc.)
- Prune any tree limbs that are closer than 4.5 metres from the ground.
- Make sure the undersides of crawlspaces, are sheathed with flame resistant material
- If there are vines, shrubs, or any other types of vegetation at the sides of your business structure, consider removing them.
- Store any flammable furniture or equipment.
- If timing allows empty fuel tanks. (Emergency generator diesel tanks, vehicle fuel tanks etc.)
- If there is an adequate water supply, wet down the surrounding area.
At an Intermediate Distance From Your Business Property (10 to 30 metres):
- “Fuel breaks” may help prevent the spread of fire onto your property. These can include pathways made of gravel or other incombustible materials.
- Prune any tree limbs that are closer than 2.5 metres from the ground.
- Find and remove any combustible vegetation.
- Make sure to thin out space trees so that the tops of each individual trees are at least 3-6 metres apart.
On the Perimeter of Your Business Property (30 to 100 metres):
- Move any firewood or other scrap wood away from close outside of your building to this zone.
- Find and remove any combustible vegetation.
- Thin or space trees so each crown is at least 3-6 metres apart
Be Prepared To Evacuate:
- Have an escape plan and multiple escape routes (if possible) laid out. Share these plans with employees and any other parties as required.
- Monitor any communications regarding a possible evacuation for your area.
- Ensure property has emergency, on site water supply.
- Make sure your documented response plan, emergency phone numbers, and communication channels (such as mobile phones or mobile radios) are easily accessible.
- Have supplies packed and an emergency kit ready.
In Case of an Evacuation Order:
- Help prevent combustion inside the dwelling by taking down drapes and moving furniture towards the centre of rooms.
- Close your doors and windows.
- Turn-off any natural gas to your building at the source.
- Leaving on the lights as they may aid firefighters in seeing through any smoke in your building.
- Leave promptly, if directed to do so.
- Use extreme caution around trees, utility poles, and other tall objects that may have become unstable.
- If you are leaving by car, and the air outside is compromised by smoke, leave your windows rolled-up and the air vents closed or circulating within the vehicle, if the function is available. Remember to also turn-on your headlights and leave your car doors unlocked in case you need to make a quick exit.
After a Wildfire:
- Do not return to your property or enter your property until the authority deems it safe to do so.
- Inspect your property for any smoldering areas that could still ignite and put them out right away. Ash pits (holes in the ground that contain hot ashes from burnt trees) can present a risk and need to be extinguished. (Remember to also mark or fill them so they do not present a tripping hazard.)
If You Need To Make a Claim:
- Inform your insurance broker immediately in the event of any actual damage.
- Document physical damage before beginning cleanup efforts — taking photographs, video, and detailed notes can be helpful.
- Keep damaged items unless they pose a health hazard.
Fireproofing for the Future:
- Using non-flammable landscaping materials such as gravel and stone instead of wood chips or mulch.
- Locating trees a suitable distance apart so their branches do not touch when mature.
- Construction of your building(s) using fire-resistant materials.
- Testing your smoke detectors regularly.
- Installing fire sprinkler systems.
- Ensuring your outside hose is long enough to reach every part of your property.
- Ensuring the fire department has access to all of the water sources on your property including hydrants, wells, swimming pools, ponds, or lakes.
Remember that your safety should come first in the case of wildfire risk. Above all, please be safe!