Wildfire Preparedness: How to Protect Your Home, Business & Family

Each year, wildfires ravage thousands of acres of land and hundreds of buildings. If your business or home is affected, the damages can be extensive, including not only fire damage but also smoke and water damage to your property. Additionally, evacuation orders can result in lost income for your business. It’s essential to have comprehensive insurance coverage to protect your home and business from these potential financial losses.

As we gear up for wildfire season, be sure to speak to your business or home insurance broker to make sure you’re protected. In the meantime, there are proactive measures that property owners can take to protect their property and mitigate losses. A comprehensive wildfire plan should include knowledge of what actions to take before, during, and after a wildfire event.

Pre-Planning: Before a Wildfire

Building Design

When designing a building to withstand potential wildfires, there are several important considerations to keep in mind. To reduce the risk of fire damage:

  • Use fire-resistant materials for the roof covering and install fire and corrosion-resistant screens on roof vents.
  • Exterior openings such as windows and doors should have at least a 20-minute fire resistance rating.
    Overhangs, eaves, and balconies should have a one-hour fire resistance rating.
  • The installation of spark arrestors on chimneys and vents is necessary to prevent sparks and embers from entering the building through these openings.

Fuel Reduction Area

To protect your property from fire, consider implementing a fuel reduction area or safety zone. This zone should be an open area with well-irrigated small plants and grass, separated from buildings, automobiles, fuel tanks, outside storage areas, and high grass or wooded areas by at least 10 meters (33 feet).

  • Clear dry or dead brush, trees, grass, and other debris within 15 meters (50 feet) of all buildings.
  • For buildings on slopes, clear 60 meters (200 feet) from buildings.
  • Trim trees so that branches are a minimum of 2 meters (6 feet) from the ground.
    Routinely remove deadfall and trimmings from open spaces.
  • Ensure driveways and access roads are well-maintained, adequately sized, and properly graded, designed to accommodate fire department vehicles up to 11 meters (38 feet) long with a turning radius of 14 meters (48 feet).

Fire Prevention Practices

  • Store combustible and flammable materials at an acceptable distance from buildings, fences, and vehicles only in approved containers.
  • If your building is on a slope, store combustible and flammable materials and liquids laterally to the building, not uphill or downhill.
  • Establish a safe outdoor smoking zone, avoid burning outdoors during dry weather or wildfire season.
  • Store garbage in fire-resistant waste containers with tight-fitting lids.
  • Keep roofs and eavestroughs free of leaves, branches, pine needles, and other debris that could fuel a fire.

Wildfire Response Plan

Create a comprehensive fire safety plan for emergency response, which should be accessible to all employees. The plan should be readily available, and copies should be provided to all staff members.

  • Conduct regular meetings to ensure that all employees are aware of how to respond and communicate during a wildfire. This will help to ensure that everyone is prepared and knows what to do in case of an emergency.
  • Conduct fire drills to provide employees with the necessary experience to properly react in the event of a wildfire.
  • Know the evacuation routes and practice travelling along them. Make sure to identify the safest location to go to if evacuation becomes necessary.
  • Ensure that your computer systems have ongoing data backup so that you can access data remotely in case of an emergency.
  • Arrange for an alternate location or have an agreement in place to continue business operations away from known wildfire zones during a wildfire event. This will help to ensure that your business can continue to operate even in the event of an emergency.

Wildfire Evacuation Plan

To prepare for a wildfire emergency, it’s important to have an emergency kit ready. The kit should include important documents such as insurance information, vendor and customer contacts, and personal identification documents. Ensure a smooth response to a wildfire by initiating the response plan early.

  • Stay informed by monitoring local radio updates.
  • Contact your insurance broker to understand policy coverage.
  • Notify customers and suppliers of possible interruptions.
  • Shut down building air intakes.
  • Close windows/building openings.
  • Turn off air conditioning, electricity, and gas services.
  • Turn off backup generators.
  • Close all windows, doors, and garage doors but leave them unlocked.
  • Remove combustibles.
  • Reach out to staff after evacuation using key contacts listed in the wildfire plan document.

Response Plan: During A Wildfire

Stay informed during a wildfire event by tuning in to local news stations and following directions from the local or provincial government. You can also sign up for Alert Ready, Canada’s emergency alerting system, which delivers critical alerts to Canadians through wireless devices.

In addition, you can check the Government of Canada wildfire website for up-to-date reports on the fire situation across Canada, and the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre website for detailed fire information, situation reports, and interactive maps of active fires.

Since areas may be evacuated at a moment’s notice during a wildfire event, it’s crucial to have a plan in place.

  • Contact your staff, customers, and suppliers to advise them of possible interruptions.
  • To limit your exposure to smoke and dust, keep windows and doors closed and consider covering vents, windows, and other openings with duct tape and plywood.
  • Wet the roof and property with a sprinkler, provided that local authorities have not restricted your water use.
  • Back up all systems and computers and consider moving important equipment to an off-site location.

Disaster Recovery: After A Wildfire

  • Before re-entering your business premises, gather these essential supplies:
    • Flashlight and batteries
    • Protective clothing (e.g., gloves, hard hat, safety glasses)
    • Face mask or respirator
    • First aid kit
    • Trash bags
    • Cleaning supplies (e.g., disinfectant, paper towels)
    • Notepad and pen
    • Camera or smartphone for documenting damage
  • Walk around the perimeter and inspect for any hazards, such as downed power lines, gas leaks, or loose debris. If you notice any electrical or gas-related issues, contact the respective company and wait for their guidance before entering the building.
  • Once inside, assess the damage and contact your insurance broker to report the damage and initiate the claim process.
  • Survey the premises for potential hazards, such as unstable structures or loose debris, before allowing your staff to begin working. In some cases, you may need to hire experts (e.g., electricians, gas fitters) to inspect the site and ensure it is safe to resume operations.
  • Clean the air intake units before turning them on to prevent spreading dust and other contaminants.
    Salvage any goods that can be saved and protect them from further damage. Dispose of any damaged items safely and properly.
  • Take photographs of all damage before beginning the cleanup process. These photos will be helpful when filing an insurance claim and can also be used as evidence in case of any disputes.

Protect Your Home and Business

If you are a homeowner and want to ensure that your property is protected from unexpected events such as fires, floods, or theft, it’s important to talk to a home insurance broker. A broker can help you find the right coverage for your needs and budget. Don’t wait until it’s too late. Take action now and reach out to a home insurance broker to get the protection you need for your home and belongings.

If you’re a business owner, don’t wait until it’s too late to protect your investment. Contact a trusted business insurance broker today to review your coverage and ensure that you have the right protection in place. With the right insurance, you can minimize the financial impact of unexpected events like wildfires, natural disasters, and other unforeseen risks.

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