How Colorado businesses can better prepare for wildfire season
Prevention tips and controls for business owners to protect their establishment from wildfires
Every August, more than 9,000 wildfires burn in the U.S., on average, causing nearly two million acres of damage, which includes residential and business structures.
Looking at historical data of the 20 largest wildfires in Colorado’s history, nine of those have occurred since 2018, 15 of those have occurred since 2012 and all 20 have occurred since 2001. Even more alarming, the three largest fires all occurred in 2020.
“We’re having fire years, not fire seasons anymore,” said Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control Director Mike Morgan.
Ahead of the wildfire season, Society Insurance, which provides coverage to the hospitality industry in Colorado and beyond, has put together prevention tips and controls a business owner can implement to better protect their establishment from wildfires.
Identify and Proactively Address Your Defensible Zones
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) defines a defensible space as an area around a building in which vegetation, debris and other types of combustible fuels have been treated, cleared or reduced to slow the spread of fire to and from the building. The National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) recommends a defensible space of up to 200 feet from a structure, which encompasses three zones. Each zone has different maintenance needs:
- Zone 3: 100+ feet (to property line) – Remove dead trees & plants. Keep trees spaced.
- Zone 2: 30-100 feet – Remove dead vegetation. Remove hanging branches at least 6 feet off the ground. Trim tall grasses/plants that would allow fire to travel up trees.
- Zone 1: 0-30 feet – Use gravel, rock or mulch. Relocate firewood piles. Plant high-moisture content annuals and perennials.
Understand Your Severity Zone
Depending on which severity zone a business is in will ultimately dictate what preparations they need to do to protect their property. As you can expect, preparing for a potential wildfire is even more critical if your property is classified as being in a high or extreme severity zone.
A severity zone is classified as moderate, high or extreme. These classifications can be based on:
- Fire history in the area
- Other terrain features
Search where you operate in Colorado to view the risk using this tool from the United States Department of Agriculture. You should also consider contacting your local insurance agent to discuss in more detail.
Examine–and Possibly Reassess–Building Materials
From your roof to your patio, it’s important to understand what materials offer the best fire protection and the controls you can implement to reduce the likelihood of your livelihood going up in flames.
Class A fire-rated roofing material is most effective against fires. Fire-resistant roofing materials include:
- Clay tile
- Slate tile
- Concrete tile (fiber-reinforced)
It is equally important to keep roofs and gutters clear of pine needles, leaves or other debris. It’s also a good idea to have a local fire marshal or roofing professional assess your roof.
Windows and Vents
Dual-pane windows with tempered glass offer increased protection against radiant or direct flame contact. Vents should be covered with 1/8 inch (minimum) noncombustible metal mesh screening to help minimize the size of embers that can enter attic or crawl space area vents.
Patios, Decks and Porches
Flammable materials should not be stored on or under decks. Consider enclosing your elevated deck, patio or porch. Some manufacturers are also incorporating fire retardant chemicals into products like wood-plastic composite decking, so be sure to look into this material option. If you have an existing wood deck and are not looking to replace it any time soon, consider having it treated with exterior fire retardant.
Enforce Smoking Controls
The National Park Service estimates at least 85% of wildfires are caused by human activity. Provide receptacles in easily accessible areas and place these away from the building and combustible materials. Ensure your employees empty these receptacles regularly. The ground should also be cleaned of cigarette butts to eliminate fire hazard.
Last year was an extremely challenging fire season in Colorado and the National Significant Wildland Fire Potential Outlook expected warmer and drier than normal conditions, especially in the West, throughout the summer. Additionally, more than 90% of the West is in drought with over half the region in extreme to exceptional drought.
By investing in quality building materials, taking proactive measures of regularly maintaining the landscape around your building, and understanding the risk where your business is, you are taking control of the variables in your power and taking proactive measures for a situation that can seem out of your control.
Jarrett Wagner is a risk control representative at Society Insurance. He began his career at Society Insurance in 2008 in the property, auto and liability claims department. During his tenure at Society Insurance, he earned his AIC and AIS designations and has spent the past three years in risk control. Wagner has a B.A. degree in criminal justice from Illinois State University.