Severe drought conditions, high temperatures and dry conditions are increasing wildfire risk in a majority of the U.S., putting buildings and property in danger of damage and loss. Much of the West and South U.S. are experiencing varying drought intensities, from severe to exceptional levels. However, there are wildfire safety measures property owners can take to help protect their assets.
Wildfires Through the Years
According to the National Interagency Fire Center, there have been over 32,200 wildfires and more than 3.3 million acres burned in the U.S. as of June 2022. But what’s causing these wildfire incidents? One factor is drought. In fact, drought levels in the western U.S., paired with heat waves during the summer months, brings the threat of wildfires earlier than expected.
However, drought levels may not have been high in years where there was a large amount of property damage from wildfires. For example, 2017 had the most property damage and losses, but drought that year was not too severe. This can be because of the location of wildfires, how close it is to a populated area, wind conditions and whether the wildfire was due to human cause or lightning. Lightning sparked wildfires are usually more devastating than fires caused by humans.
Droughts Impacting Wildfires
With severe drought levels, it creates an environment that can easily ignite and burn. Dry landscapes and climates fuel wildfires and help them spread and burn, according to the National Integrated Drought Information System.
Over the past two decades, drought conditions in the western U.S. have gradually gotten more severe. In 2021, for example, the lack of rain with a dry spring, dry summer and dry fall meant wildfires were a constant hazard with an extended fire season. Rain was also a concern as it could turn the wildfire burn scars into mudslides, putting property at risk.
Early estimates of commercial property insured wildfire losses in 2021 were over $336 million, according to losses reported by the ISO Property Claims Services, and this number is likely to increase as losses are finalized and made official.
Helping Businesses Protect Against Wildfires
Having a disaster plan is essential in protecting property from wildfires and potential damage. The written plan should tell employees and even customers what to expect. If a property owner doesn’t have a disaster plan, it’s not too late to create one. Here are some key things you may want to include:
- Step-by-step instructions to minimize risk
- Directions for how to protect employees and property
- An evacuation plan
- Emergency numbers
- A designated crisis team
If a company must close and evacuate employees because of a wildfire, having a disaster plan can help with business continuity. It is important to keep critical documents stored in a safe that is fire resistant or located off premises. Equally important is to be sure to back up digital copies of company data.
In addition, if a business is in an area prone to wildfires, it is critical to include information on wildfire preparedness in the disaster plan. Property owners can also make building improvements to add more protection from fire damage, such as installing smoke detectors and automatic fire sprinklers in every building and connecting a fire alarm to a central station or local fire department.
For additional protections, property owners should consider using window drapes with fire-retardant chemicals, putting mesh covers over exterior vents, around decks or attic openings to prevent outdoor embers from going inside the building, and ensuring emergency vehicle access to your business’ property.
A Partner with Experience
While it’s not easy to predict how a wildfire will impact business, it is essential for property owners to take proactive measures to help protect their company and assets. Partnering with an experienced insurance company can be beneficial and symbiotic to the structural mitigation efforts undertaken by a business owner.
At The Hartford, for example, risk engineering specialists know the unique risks and challenges that many businesses face. When it comes to wildfires, the insurer can work with agents and brokers to help business owners better understand how fire will behave on their property and help prevent issues from happening through innovative technology and specialized insurance solutions.