How you can prepare your business for a fighting chance against the next California wildfire
When it comes to preparing your business for wildfires, many may people neglect a comprehensive approach to wildfire mitigation. And although there are many residential practices that can be applied to properties such as wineries, ranches, estates, and commercial properties, specific issues come to mind when it comes to preparing your business.
Suffice it to say that there are hundreds of elements at play when it comes to wildfire preparedness, and each property has its own unique set of strengths and vulnerabilities.
That’s why having an experienced certified wildfire mitigation specialist walk the property alongside the owner or lead operations person, is key to understanding the various concepts such as structure hardening, defensible space, evacuation/alerts, suppression assets, directional signage, and more. Reading a pamphlet is helpful, but nothing beats having a wildfire prevention expert explain the relevant dynamics.
The ultimate goal is to have your business property prepared so it is “self-defended.” Although we respect and appreciate our local and mutual aid firefighting forces, during large events we must assume that they cannot come to every property.
Therefore, we must prepare the environment to withstand a wildfire on its own, which includes firewise landscaping to improve fire behavior, structure hardening to withstand ember storms, and possibly fire inhibition products.
Keep in mind that the most important defensible space zone is the 0-5 foot zone, where most people place highly combustible mulch and vegetative fuels. I do not recommend “moonscapes” around buildings, but landscaping that is resilient and resistant to dominant fire behaviors.
If firefighters do have time to come to your property to suppress fires or perform structure protection operations, they first need a few essential elements to help them in their triage process.
It is critical that owners utilize metal reflective address and directional signage that will help them confirm their location and informational signage informing firefighting assets what they may have access to including turn arounds, water for suppression efforts, additional egress/ingress options, and large open areas that may be used as safety zones.
Again, we want to make our homes and businesses as inviting as possible to these teams, if they come. And we also want properties prepared to survive with no assistance at all as the fire passes through.
Some businesses such as wineries, farms, and processing plants may decide to have one or more people remain behind to “stay and defend.”
During my consultations I always strongly encourage people to receive wildfire alert information as early as possible and leave promptly. I do not recommend they stay and fight fires. That said, there are people who will decide to remain and much more can be said about how to prepare for this experience. Do they have the proper training, clothing, equipment, communications, and an effective plan with designated duties?
In terms of alert systems, in addition to county systems like Nixle, free apps such as Watch Duty.org and Pulsepoint.org are essential tools which geo-locate where wildfires are popping up.
Additionally, be aware of Fire Weather Reports that the National Weather Service announces for your area. Fire Weather reports are often given days before a Red Flag Warning, thereby giving you additional lead time to prepare the property and evacuate early.
Remember, “nature bats last”, meaning that nature makes the final decision in wildfire events and even firefighters must leave when the weather dictates. Chief among these fire behavior elements is wind and a free app called Windy.com will give you predicted wind speeds and wind direction. Typically, the dry and destructive Diablo winds that come from the Northeast occur in the fall, but with climate change, we are seeing these dry wind events occurring almost year around.
Moreover, it is assumed by most people that we need not worry about areas that are “safer” like Petaluma vs areas that are less safe like Calistoga, but wildfires can develop in areas that are not high or very high severity zones because wind driven embers can travel a mile or more ahead of the main fire.
Therefore, I encourage all businesses and residents to prepare early for the eventuality of wildfires so that they can be protected by firefighters, or survive as a self-defended properties when they are not able to arrive in time.