Knowing how to prepare for wildfire season has never been more urgent for those in high-risk areas. As California battles the largest blaze ever recorded in the state, property managers nationwide need to be ready for the threat of wildfires in their own community.
Wildfires can happen almost anywhere in the country, and can be started by anything from a lightning bolt to a carelessly tossed cigarette. Taking these simple steps to prepare can help reduce the risk of pricey property damage and keep the residents of your residential, multifamily or community safe.
What to do if you are at immediate risk: #1
Keep an eye on air quality
During a wildfire, air quality can be just as dangerous as flames. Even if a blaze is far away, it produces smoke and particles that can harm your residents, especially the elderly and those with chronic heart and lung disease. Check the air quality on websites like AirNow. If unhealthy air quality is reported in your area, tell residents to avoid opening windows, and to run air conditioners with the fresh air intake closed to avoid letting additional smoke inside.
What to do if you are at immediate risk: #2
Share evacuation routes and nearest shelters
Residents need to know where to go if they must evacuate their homes. Make this information readily available by sharing your community’s evacuation plans and escape routes. Also encourage your residents to download The Red Cross’ emergency app, which allows them to look up the nearest shelters.
What to do if you are at immediate risk: #3
Establish a line of command
The midst of a crisis is never the best time to determine who on your team is in charge. That’s why it’s important to organize roles and tasks ahead of time. FEMA provides a downloadable playbook to help you establish roles when disasters strike. Plot out which tasks will be managed by each person, such as determining who will alert residents, or who will prepare the property to minimize damage.
Wildfire season prep: #1
Safeguard your properties
Now is a good time to double check fire safety essentials, clearly marked emergency exits and smoke detectors with working batteries. This will prepare you for wildfires, and also help you pass your next fire inspection.
Take the following additional steps to reduce the risk of a wildfire damage:
- Clear out combustible material from around buildings. Move away gas tanks, rake up leaves, and clean out gutters.
- Avoid landscaping that increases the risk of fire damage. FEMA provides a guide to identifying which types of plants are more combustible, and where they can be safely planted.
- Try to use fire-resistant materials when replacing or repairing your property. Class-A roof coverings provide the highest level of fire-protection available.
- Identify and make note of vents and other openings that lead into buildings. Embers can be blown in during a wildfire, so knowing where these openings are ahead of time means you’ll be ready to close them if a blaze is looming.
- Add screens to the area below decks, porches, and patios as a wire mesh screen can help keep out flammable debris like dry leaves.
Wildfire season prep: #2
Have supplies ready
Stock up ahead of time on items you’ll need during a wildfire, like fire extinguishers, N95 respirator masks, and first aid kits. Create a business “go bag” with everything you need for managing your property, such as contact info for residents and important documents. You can also store documents in a fireproof safe, or use a digital version that you can access anywhere.
Wildfire season prep: #3
Ensure that you’re insured
Hopefully, your properties already have insurance coverage for wildfires. Check if your plan covers other disasters that sometimes occur during wildfires, such as flash floods or mudslides. Encourage your residents to also get insurance that will cover them in the event of a wildfire.
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Wildfire preparation for residential properties
If your renters need to flee, make sure that they know to close all windows and doors to reduce drafts in the building and remove radiant heat. They should also move flammable furniture to the middle of rooms away from windows, and take down flammable curtains and window treatments. This can help protect their own property, and reduce the risk of damage to your building.
Rental properties with attached decks can be particularly vulnerable to wildfires. According to Firewise USA, you can reduce the flammability of decks by clearing out anything combustible stored underneath the deck, cleaning out debris stuck between gaps in deck boards, and using materials that comply with building code requirements. If a deck is made of flammable material, such as non-fire-retardant treated wood, consider replacing boards closer to the building with less combustible ones.
Wildfire preparation for multifamily properties
Review your multifamily properties and remove any hazards that can increase the risk of fire damage, such as flammable items collected in common areas. Make sure that there are plenty of ABC-type fire extinguishers handy throughout the inside of the building. Outside, check that emergency vehicle lanes and fire hydrants are clearly visible.
If your multifamily properties includes a fence attached to a building, consider replacing it with non-combustible fencing options. According to Firewise USA, there are several styles of fencing that can help reduce the chance of spreading a wildfire’s blaze.
Wildfire preparation for community associations
Talk with your community associations to lock down the budget and resources you’ll need to make properties more fire-resistant in the future. Community associations can also help you communicate fire prevention tips to residents, such as:
- Restricting open burnings when it is windy, dry and hot outside.
- Storing away porch furniture, plants, doormats, and other outdoor items to prevent them from igniting during a wildfire.
- Keeping lawns hydrated and maintained to avoid dry grass fueling flames
The best time for wildfire preparation is now
As Northern California continues to be seared by blazes, it’s important to understand how wildfires can impact your property, and what you can do to minimize damage. For the well-being of your business, property, and tenants, take steps today to prepare and you’ll be in a much better position down the line.