According to the Department of Interior, up to 90% of all wildfires are started by humans and human activities. Compounded by conditions like drought and rising annual temperatures that dry out grass and trees, the probability of ignition and the rate at which fires spread has increased exponentially. These devastating fires have serious economic impacts that increase in severity with size.
With devastating fires raging across states like California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Colorado, and Idaho, this month’s newsletter gives property owners and managers nationwide easy access to valuable information on fire prevention, mitigation, and recovery.
Fire Prevention & Mitigation
Property owners or managers can be proactive in preventing a fire, or at least mitigating the damage, by implementing some precautionary measures. Both the exterior of the building and the interior must be addressed when considering fire safety. Most commercial property fires start inside a building, but with wildfires becoming more prevalent, preventing wildfire damage or the spread of a man-made fire from building to building is also crucial.
For exterior precautions, one important step is creating a defensible zone around the facility. Defensible zones can include: the use of non-combustible materials for all signage, siding, decking, roofs, and gutters; reducing vegetative fuel in landscape design; installing proper guards against embers, like mesh over vents and double-paned windows; and ensuring fire hydrants are both functioning and within the correct distance from the facility, usually 250 feet, for ease of emergency access. These zones help slow the spread of fires from building to building.
Property owners and facility managers must also make sure that the interiors of buildings meet or exceed all requirements of local fire codes to protect lives and property. There are five key causes of property fires, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). The spaces where those fires are prone to start should be proactively addressed to help lower the risk of fire in a facility.
Proper training, cleaning, maintenance, fire suppression systems, and security systems can prevent or mitigate all of these common types of fires. Training and maintenance especially can prevent fires in kitchens, unseen spaces containing ventilation and wiring, and office areas with multiple electronics. Regularly scheduled maintenance of all equipment, particularly HVAC systems and ventilation from cooking equipment or machinery like a dryer, is vital. Proper training in the use of all equipment, especially kitchen equipment and electronics in office spaces (such as proper use of space heaters or extension cords), also reduces the risk of fires.
Interior and exterior fire suppression systems, such as fire extinguishers, sprinkler systems, fire hydrants, and fire hoses are all typical items required by fire codes and commercial insurance policies. They are designed to mitigate damage from any kind of fire, and some, like fire extinguishers or fire blankets, may require training to use correctly. Providing fire-proofed smoking areas with proper disposal methods helps reduce the risk of smoking-related fires. Security systems help prevent intentional fires by denying access to perpetrators and alerting authorities. When paired with equipment like smoke detectors, security systems that include equipment like motion sensors or cameras may help provide a faster response to both arson and accidental fires.
Fire Disaster Recovery
After a fire has damaged a facility or a wildfire has ravaged an area, there are four essential tasks to focus on to get a facility back to being business-ready:
Air quality: The soot from a fire is laden with toxins from burning materials like paint, insulation, cars, and more. Soot and smoke residue is difficult to remove without professional equipment like air scrubbers and negative air machines. A disaster recovery firm, equipped with personal protective equipment to prevent inhalation and exposure, should thoroughly clean the facility and HVAC system. This is required to effectively remove soot and remediate the odors left behind from smoke to ensure the health and safety of occupants.
Structural damage: This is a critical factor that requires professional guidance. Having a fully certified disaster recovery firm assess the structure and perform any necessary demolition, restoration, and reconstruction work will ensure that the facility is truly safe for occupancy.
Water remediation: As the most abundantly available and affordable fire suppression method, water damage is inevitable after a fire. A full-service disaster recovery firm can extract excess water and address all the ensuing damage caused to a facility and its contents, salvage items and materials to help keep costs down, and prevent issues like mold from taking root.
Burn scars and flooding: If your business is downhill from a burn scar caused by a wildfire, being prepared to evacuate in case of flash flooding is another important consideration. Flash flooding can carry hazardous debris flows that can cause structural damage as well as water damage to a facility. Having an Emergency Response Agreement (ERA) in place with a disaster recovery company will allow them to prioritize work on your facility and swiftly address any damage, minimizing business disruption.
Case Study: Fire Disaster Recovery At Rombauer Vineyards
The 2020 Sonoma and Napa County fires were devastating, and the iconic vineyards and wineries of the region were severely impacted. When Rombauer Vineyards, an acclaimed winery, was looking for a disaster recovery firm, their insurance adjuster recommended ATI. After speaking to a few other properties that had experience with ATI’s services, they contacted ATI.
Strong, established relationships with many insurance companies who know and trust ATI’s work often enable expedited delivery of services. This was the case with Rombauer and their insurance, who were able to review assessments of the buildings and give ATI the green light to begin work quickly.
During times of high demand, disaster recovery services become a regional effort. This project included support from the Sonoma, Sacramento, San Jose, San Francisco offices, and from the corporate office through the CAT (catastrophe services) Team. ATI’s ability to come together and mobilize quickly for clients is unparalleled in the industry.
Fortunately, the buildings of Rombauer Vineyards were not directly hit by fires. However, smoke and ashfall lasted for two weeks and severely impacted the surrounding areas. Gutters, roofs, and walls on all buildings needed to be cleaned and repaired. Areas inside that were cleaned, deodorized, and restored included tasting rooms, storage rooms, offices, and administrative buildings, guest houses, and the original Rombauer family home. Pressure washing, soot and odor removal, air duct and HVAC cleaning, and other fire damage recovery services were utilized to get Rombauer Vineyards back to their beautiful pre-disaster condition and back to business within a month.
Throughout the process, ATI was described as being sensitive, humble, careful, and respectful, hallmarks of ATI’s core values as a family-operated business. That translated to a very happy customer, so much so that KR Rombauer, the son of the founder and the current owner of Rombauer Vineyards, was interviewed on ATI’s podcast, Rebuilding with Care, to discuss the outstanding level of service his vineyard received.
Protecting lives and property from a fire disaster means being proactive about having proper fire suppression systems in place. It also means ensuring your building has a defensible zone around it to act as a fire break when wildfires sweep an area, an increasing risk. Disaster recovery after a fire should focus on addressing the ensuing structural, fire, and water damage and restoring air quality. Establishing an ERA with a disaster recovery firm can help get your business back on track quickly after any disaster.
Quick Links to Resources
Mitigation and Recovery: Fires in Commercial Spaces
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