Where there’s Smoke: Wildfire prevention tips for property owners

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Warmer weather and dry lands are prime kindling for wildfires. And if current blazes across B.C., and northern Alberta are any indication, Canada is bracing for one of its most severe wildfire seasons yet.

“There may be debate over why why we’re seeing more severe and frequent wildfires, but the fact is they are a growing threat,” says Erik Hecht, Director of Operations, B.C, for FirstOnSite Restoration, adding, “What we’re already seeing in the west, and even south of the border in California, serves as a reminder for just how important it is to be prepared for weather-related emergencies.”

Emergency preparedness is no doubt key. With wildfire seasons heating up, here are some preventative steps property owners/managers can take to protect their tenants and assets:

  • Fire-proof your perimetre. Sparks can enter a building through openings of any size. Prevent fire from getting in by repairing loose shingles, applying wire mesh to screening vents, and using soffits made with fire-resistant materials to protect eaves. If your building allows pets, consider closing the pet doors during wildfire seasons.
  • Make space: Fire needs fuel to burn. Clear highly-combustible materials (e.g., branches, twigs, garbage, debris, etc.) within 10 metres of your property to remove materials that can help the flames spread.
  • Check the roof: Keep your roofing free from debris and consider applying a metal mesh screen to prevent additional debris from piling up. Wood shingles are very flammable, so also consider replacing your cover with non-flammable roofing materials such as asphalt, metal, slate, or tile.
  • Maintain your landscape: Coniferous trees are extremely flammable (as opposed to deciduous trees, which are naturally fire-resistant). Remove any coniferous tree within 10 metres of your property and, beyond that, space them within at least three metres of each other. Additionally, prune the lower branches from all your trees regularly and ensure the lawn is regularly mowed and watered (water restrictions notwithstanding).
  • Assign a “fire-resistant zone”: This could be a cleared part of the property (far away from the fire), an adjacent property, or a large paved area that is free of vegetation. This spot should be well known to property staff and tenants as a place to meet when disaster strikes and regular routes are not viable.
  • Secure your support network: If a nearby property ignites, your property is under threat (and vice-versa). Therefore, it is important to consider all neighbouring properties in your disaster planning and include them, emergency responders, and restoration partners in your disaster response planning.

Clearing the air

Smoke damage is an underestimated consequence of wildfires. Smoke contamination can travel to areas of property and/or belongings that may not be visible to the untrained eye, posing risks to a property and the health of its occupants.

Herein, there are several things to keep in mind during clean-up:

Partner with professionals: Smoke contamination can travel to areas of property and/or belongings that may not be visible to the untrained eye. Hire a firm with specialized expertise in smoke cleaning to complete a proper assessment.

  • Take precautions: If you decide to clean, remember that the environment may not be safe. Protect yourself by using a disposable dust mask or respirator and wear gloves, and use an air purifier will also help remove particulates from the space. Also, dispose of open or exposed food to avoid possible ingestion of toxic carcinogens.
  • Swipe first: Swipe windows with a clean white tissue to determine potential contamination. Light brown / brown dust indicates typical household dust, while grey/black dust indicates contamination is present and the area should be handled professionally to ensure safety.
  • Power down: Avoid turning on any electronics since soot on surfaces and in the air will contaminate the inside of the unit.
  • Seal the environment: Keep doors and windows closed as much as possible to prevent smoke from entering the property. Consider sealing windows and door frames with tape to prevent smoke from entering your home or business if the building is near an active fire.
  • Change your filters: Use one every few days or weekly depending on the severity of smoke and air quality.
  • Verify your coverage: Call your insurance company to understand what is specifically covered under your policy.

When disaster strikes

Preparing for an emergency is not a “one-and-done” exercise. It is an ongoing consideration that requires training, constant communication, and informed response strategies (e.g. evacuation and business continuity plans).

“The last time you want to be planning your emergency response is during an actual event,” adds Hecht. “There are health issues at play, and businesses can lose a tremendous amount of money every day they are offline. The sooner you work with a team like FirstOnSite to assess your organization and create a response and continuity plan, the better your odds will be of making an effective recovery.”

The risks are mounting, but there is much that property owners/managers can do to help mitigate damage, protect their tenants, and recover quickly (and effectively) from extreme weather events.

FirstOnSite Restoration is a leading Canadian-based disaster restoration company providing remediation, restoration, and reconstruction services nationwide, as well as for the US large loss and commercial market. For more information, visit www.firstonsite.ca.


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