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April Marks the Start of Wildfire Season

April 2, 2014

WildfireApril marks the beginning of wildfire season in Washington State, and with recent weather reports showing that El Niño may bring a drier and warmer summer than normal, now is the time to prepare. In a previous post we covered how to minimize your risk during a wildfire, but do you know how wildfires spread? According to Disastersafety.org, there are three main threats that a home or business can be at risk for if they’re in a wildfire territory: windborne embers, radiant heat, and direct flame contact.

Windborne Embers:

  • Windborne embers, also called firebrands, are fairly self-explanatory. They’re hot or still flaming pieces of ash and ember that get carried in the wind or drafts created by the heat of a fire. These can travel a fair distance and have been known to melt vinyl window frames, ignite roofing materials, and get into the attic space of an unsealed roof. These embers sometimes remain smoldering for quite a while despite going undetected.
  • Having a fire-resistive roof that is properly sealed can help minimize this risk and may be a good option for people who live in notorious wildfire areas. Cleaning your gutters can also help minimize risk.

Radiant Heat:

  • Radiant heat works similarly to baseboard heaters in a home. As the baseboard heater warms up, the heat is spread into the cold room to warm the entire space. The farther from the heater you are, the colder the room is. It’s no secret that fires are hot, but wildfires will release huge amounts of heat in all directions, and this heat, when close enough to a structure, can cause it to ignite combustible materials. Thankfully most combustible materials more than 30 feet away from a wildfire are at a greatly reduced risk of igniting. For this reason it is recommended to keep at least 30 feet around your home or business clear of debris.
  • Consider this: according to this safety sheet from Fireman’s Fund insurance, the average temperature at the floor of a forest fire is 1,472 degrees Fahrenheit—the flashpoint of wood (flashpoint is the temperature at which a material will self-ignite) is only 572 degrees Farhenheit.

Direct Flame Contact:

  • Perhaps the easiest to understand, direct flame contact is exactly as it sounds: when a flame directly contacts a combustible debris or structure and catches it on fire.

There are also two other methods of heat transfer: convection and conduction. Convection tends to cause windborne embers which quickly cause a fire to spread. The high winds generated by wildfires can carry these embers for many miles.

If you are in a fire zone and have cleared a space around your home, sealed your roof, attic, and vents, and taken as many safety precautions as possible, is there anything else you can do from an insurance standpoint?

  • If you live in an area that could potentially be affected by a fire, photograph or video tape your possessions. Should a loss occur, having a record of the items in your home can help your insurance company process the claim faster. It can also help you be sure to claim all of your items, since in an emergency it can be easy to forget all of the little things in your home.
  • Review with your agent the type of coverage your home has. The Oregon Insurance Department gives a good reminder of replacement cost versus actual cash value. The type of coverage you have can make a big impact on how items will be replaced.
  • There’s an app for that! Download the emergency management app from Disastersafety.org to be sure you’re completely prepared. While it isn’t just limited to wildfire safety, it will help your family or business plan for multiple disasters.
  • Watch out for smoke pollution. During the Taylor Bridge fire in 2012, smoke pollution concerns stretched from Leavenworth to Wenatchee, and even the Columbia River crossing just outside of Ellensburg was covered in a thick smoke. Air quality advisory maps published by the Washington State Department of Health can help your family, business, and customers stay safe.

For additional information on wildfires, check out these websites:

http://wildfiretoday.com/2010/02/08/radiant-heat-embers-and-the-ignitability-of-structures/

http://www.srs.fs.usda.gov/factsheet/pdf/fire-understanding.pdf

https://www.disastersafety.org/blog/reduce-your-risk-from-wildfire-embers/

Article by Kristen Skinner

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