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Understanding and reducing the risk of wildfires in your business

Wildfires and forest fires can be disastrous for a business and can spread far beyond where they originate. Especially since most wildfires are caused by human activity, your business needs to understand wildfire risks and proper land management

A wildfire is a particularly deadly form of natural disaster that occurs in forested or wooded areas, and often the fire spreads far beyond its initial location. These fires are also becoming more common; over 32,000 wildfires happened in the United States in 2022, compared with 21,000 recorded in 2021. These fires are responsible for burning more than 3.3 million acres of land, devastating ecological and business environments alike. Especially if your business is part of an outdoor industry, it’s vital that you understand wildfire causes and wildfire safety tips to mitigate the impact of these disasters on your organization.


Table of contents


1. What is a wildfire?


1.1. What causes wildfires?


2. Which businesses are most affected by wildfires?


2.1. Forestry


2.2. Tourism


2.3. Agriculture


2.4. Power companies


3. How can your business prepare for wildfires?



What is a wildfire?


Wildfires are uncontrolled fires that burn through wildland vegetation. Though they most often occur in wooded areas, they can start in various locations, such as forests, grasslands, savannahs, or prairies. The term “wildfire” is most common, but depending on location, they can be called forest fires or brush fires as well.


Wildfires can burn both above and below ground. Soil rich with organic matter like plant roots can smolder for a while before becoming a surface fire, and surface fires feed off of dead or dry vegetation, which burns easily. Forest fires often involve both underground and surface fires.


A large cloud of smoke rising out of a vegetated area

What causes wildfires?


The severity and frequency of forest, brush, and wildfires comes down to weather conditions. When temperatures are high and there has been little rainfall (in other words, the air and earth are dry), wildfires can spread much further. In that sense, climate change plays a large part in the impact of these fires, since more warm air in the atmosphere means more droughts.


As for how wildfires start, over over 85% of them result from human activity – though random events like lightning strikes can also spark a fire. Any fire, whether it’s a brush fire, forest fire, wildfire, or fire inside a building, needs three things to start. Those are:


  • Heat. Various heat sources can serve as driving forces for a wildfire.
  • Fuel. It’s not just gasoline; dry vegetation and an arid climate are prime fuel sources.
  • Oxygen. Fires thrive on oxygen, and fast winds can fan flames, helping wildfires to spread.

Fuel and oxygen are virtually always present in climates which pose a high wildfire risk. Providing a heat source is where humans enter the picture. Heat sources which commonly lead to wildfires include:


  • Burning debris
  • Unattended campfires
  • Fallen or ill-placed power lines
  • Discarded cigarettes
  • Equipment malfunctions
  • Vehicle crashes

All of the same fire safety tips that apply to building or office fires apply to wildfires. Check for hazards, clear the area, and be mindful of potential fuel sources so as to reduce wildfire risk.



Which businesses are most affected by wildfires?


Any business located in or around areas prone to wild and forest fires can be affected by them. The three most common ways for a fire to damage your property are:


  • Direct flames, which are clear risks to property as well as worker safety
  • Airborne embers, which can be carried long distances to create fires in other locations
  • Radiant heat – if the wildfire gives off enough heat, it can ignite nearby materials and even break glass

The smoke from these disasters is also a concern, as it drastically lowers air quality, and inhaling smoke is a health risk. Smoke also spreads long distances, expanding the radius of affected areas.


Additionally, companies are reluctant to invest in risky areas. Businesses which operate mainly outdoors are most likely to be affected by wildfires.



Forestry


Forestry and logging workers are affected by the prevalence of forest fires by virtue of their location. They work directly in areas most prone to fires, which means they need to be extra careful to avoid hazards and safeguard potential fuel sources.


Aside from direct risks to health, wildfires often mean loss of business because burnt-up trees cannot be harvested effectively, or because evacuations mean delays in production. Additionally, much of the wood harvested by the logging industry is used for residential construction, and frequent wildfires mean lower demand for housing in high-risk areas.



Tourism


Just as construction declines when fire risk is high, tourism takes a hit. A key impact of wildfires is that travelers cancel their vacations, perceiving these areas as dangerous. This is bad news for tourist towns, where the economy is heavily sustained by outside visitors.


Tourist areas in the vicinity of wildfire hotspots are affected as well, due to smoke distribution. California alone has seen an 11% decrease in tourism revenue as a result of frequent wildfires.



Agriculture


Agriculture is harmed very directly by wild and brush fires that damage crops, kill livestock, and hurt the soil. Crop and soil damage don’t just hurt your immediate harvest, they make farming more difficult for the foreseeable future, sometimes even for years.


Infrastructure and soil damage are long-term impacts of wildfires, drying out soil and destroying things like irrigation systems. And as with forestry workers, farmers need to be mindful of their safety when working in the fields.


Two firefighters attempt to put out a fire in a building

Power companies


Frequent wildfires lead to utility failures and power outages that not only damage your infrastructure, but inconvenience your customers. Additionally, a common driver of wildfires is damaged power lines, which means two things.


First, because of the role power lines can play in igniting fires, the state of California has begun preventative shutoffs during fire-prone weather conditions, which leads to loss of income. And second, when a wildfire is determined to have resulted from improperly placed or maintained power lines, your utility company can face massive fines.



How can your business prepare for wildfires?


Preparing for a wildfire is a necessary part of operating in dry, hot, and densely wooded areas. Because wildfire causes often boil down to human error, it’s crucial that you make sure workers are not careless with fuel sources, are not dropping cigarettes on the ground, and that all your equipment/machinery is functioning properly. Also make sure to have firefighting equipment and PPE for your workers in the event of an emergency.


Beyond general fire safety tips, guarding against forest fires is a matter of land management. Good land management means:


  • Using local wildfire maps to figure out if you are in a high-risk zone
  • Building structures with fire-resistant materials (brick, stone, concrete) where possible
  • Using noncombustible shutters to prevent window glass from breaking
  • Regularly cleaning any air vents and similar gaps
  • Making sure door frames are tight and block fires from progressing
  • Establishing a perimeter around your worksite which is free of combustible materials and vegetation
  • Minimizing fuel load and storing combustibles away from active zones

Establishing safety and maintenance protocols is easier with digital checklists. Using Lumiform, you can access, download, and complete checklists in minutes, to ensure everything from machine quality to hazard awareness. Tailor individual templates to your specific needs so you can account for every risk your business faces.


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