How to Protect Your Business from Wildfires in Alberta

 Alberta’s wildfire season beings March 1 and lasts through to the end of October each year. There is currently an average of 1,346 wildfires per year in Alberta with 63 per cent being caused by human activity. While most of these fires do not impact businesses, in some cases they can destroy resources, interrupt supply chains and damage communities. Rogers Insurance experienced this first-hand with our office in Fort McMurray during the 2016 Horse River wildfire. 

This article explains how businesses in Alberta can mitigate the potential impact of wildfires on their business, including: 

  • Injuries 
  • Property Damage 
  • Supply Chain Interruption  
  • Business Interruption  

How to Prevent Wildfire-Related Injuries to Employees in Alberta 

According to the World Health Organization, wildfires and corresponding smoke can cause: 

  • Death 
  • Burns 
  • Lung diseases 
  • Worsening of existing lung and cardiovascular diseases. 
  • Coughing, wheezing and other symptoms of decreased lung function. 
  • Irritation of the eyes, nose, throat and lungs, 

In order to protect your employees from these harmful effects of wildfires, it’s important to develop a response plan, be aware of any emerging wildfire risks and enact your response promptly.  

Your company’s emergency response plan should include: 

  • An outline of the chain of command. 
  • An emergency contact list that includes employees, vendors and emergency services. 
  • Assigned functions and responsibilities to specific people. 
  • Checklists for tasks to be completed. 
  • Procedures for securing the property if there is a threat of a wildfire. 
  • Evacuation procedures including how and when evacuation should occur, final steps to secure the business property and exit routes (include alternates).  
  • Procedures for dealing with low air quality (how employees can protect themselves, when to stop work, etc.).  
  • List of essential equipment, where it can be found and instructions on how to use it.  
  • How employees and any visitors will be accounted for before, during and after the evacuation.  
  • A training schedule to practice the wildfire response plan.  

Remember, wildfire evacuations can last for days, weeks or even longer. It’s also important to plan for a quick evacuation, as wildfires can be unpredictable.  

During fire season, your business should also monitor local fire alerts and air quality advisories. You can use the following resources: 

These platforms can be used to trigger your wildfire response plan.  

How to Protect Your Company’s Property from Wildfire Damage in Alberta 

Businesses can sustain damage from a wildfire due to the fire, smoke and firefighting techniques. The following methods can help you prevent or minimize damage to your company’s property: 

  • Install and maintain fire suppression equipment. 
  • Install fire-resistant materials.  
  • Keep soot and smoke from entering your buildings. 
  • Ensure emergency services have access to your property. 
  • Properly store all combustible materials. 
  • Landscaping and vegetation management. 
  • Secure the property if there’s time before evacuation. 

This all helps you create a defensible zone around your business.  

Install Fire Suppression Equipment 

Every building should have a fire sprinkler or suppression system. Ensure it is maintained and ready to operate in the event of a wildfire. You should also have fire extinguishers on hand and employees should be trained to use them.  

Install Fire-Resistant Materials 

Fire-resistant materials should be installed on the exterior of your building(s) including your roof. The following materials are best: 

  • Tile 
  • Metal  
  • Brick 
  • Concrete 
  • Stone 
  • Stucco  

Some other types of shingles are also considered to be fire-resistant. Research roofing fire ratings when it comes time to replace your roof.  

If you have any wood exterior finishes, treat them with an approved fire-retardant chemical. You could also opt for a synthetic or wood look-alike material with a better fire rating.  

Your windows are another entry point for fire. Dual-paned windows with tempered glass are the best option to protect your property from wildfires. You should also consider using fire-resistant window treatments or installing metal fire shutters.  

Keep Soot and Smoke from Entering Your Buildings 

Prevent soot and smoke from getting inside by using metal mesh on any exterior vents or openings. They’re also useful to install in eaves to keep out debris. 

You should also close all windows and doors if there is wildfire smoke or if you need to evacuate.  

Emergency Services Access to Your Property 

Emergency vehicles will generally need a road that is at least 3.5 metres wide with 4.5 metres of overhead clearance to access your property. If the road is private, ensure it is clear and passable.  

You should also ensure that vehicles will have enough room to manoeuvre. There should be at least 13.8 metres of turning radius so the trucks can easily turn around. An alternative is to provide a through-road so vehicles can leave without turning around. 

If your property is gated, ensure the gates open inward towards your property. If they’re secured, make sure the fire department will be able to break the lock in an emergency. You can also leave your gates open.  

Finally, ensure your property is properly signed so that emergency services can easily find it.  

Properly Store Combustible Materials 

All combustible materials should be stored properly. This means storing them at least six metres away from other structures and plants – more if the material is explosive. You should also use proper storage containers when applicable. You can cover fuel such as firewood with fire-resistant covers.  

Landscaping and Vegetation Management 

This is one of the most important aspects of keeping wildfires away from your business. In the immediate 10 metres surrounding your buildings: 

  • Keep the roof clear of leaves and other vegetation.  
  • Consider using non-flammable landscaping such as rocks, stones and sand.  
  • Avoid placing plants right next to buildings.  
  • If you want plants next to the building, the best are succulents and cacti.  
  • Clear out any dead vegetation.  
  • Mow and water any grass regularly.  
  • Large patios or concrete pads can help keep the fire away. 
  • Stone, concrete or brick walls can help block heat or keep the fire away.  

As for the rest of the property: 

  • Deciduous trees are better than coniferous trees (and further from the building can even act as a buffer).  
  • Trees should be thinned so that they are three to six metres apart (from the crown). 
  • Prune trees so that there are no branches below two metres. 
  • Plant in a mosaic pattern, never straight lines towards your buildings. 
  • Clear out deadfall. 
  • Ponds and lakes can help keep the fire away and be a water source for firefighting.  

Securing the Property Before Evacuation 

If there’s enough time, you can take the following steps to secure your company’s property before you evacuate: 

  • Bring all property inside where possible.  
  • Close all windows and doors.  
  • Seal vents and openings where possible. 
  • Clear the roof and eaves of any plant debris. 
  • Water down the roof, structures and the immediate area around buildings. 
  • Have water hoses connected and available for use.  
  • Turn off the gas. 
  • Shut down equipment. 
  • Remove any essential equipment or materials, if possible.  
  • Remove any garbage or materials that can spoil. 

Keep in mind evacuations can last weeks! 

How to Minimize the Impact of Supply Chain Interruption Due to Wildfires in Alberta 

Wildfires can disrupt supply chains due to businesses needing to cease operations and transportation resources being interrupted. There are a few ways you can mitigate supply chain interruptions due to wildfire for your business: 

  • Source backup suppliers. 
  • Diversify your supply base. 
  • Build up inventory. 
  • Identify alternative transportation. 
  • Communicate with clients about disruptions. 

How to Minimize Business Interruption from Wildfires in Alberta 

A wildfire can impact your business for days, weeks or even months. Even if your company’s assets are safe, your community may be under an evacuation order for some time. Here are some tips to minimize the interruption to your business: 

  • Be prepared to work remotely, if possible – ensure employees have the training and equipment they need. 
  • Consider setting up a remote office or facility, if feasible. 
  • Cut all non-essential costs.  
  • Consider applying for a temporary loan or grant, if available.  
  • Prepare for re-entry with established procedures and responsibilities.  
  • Work with your insurance company if you have business interruption coverage or your property is damaged by fire. 

Insurance for Wildfires in Alberta 

Wildfires are unpredictable and can be devastating. Even if you’ve done everything you can to protect your business, it still might not be enough. There are two main areas of coverage available to protect your company if it’s impacted by a wildfire in Alberta: 

  • Commercial Property – Helps cover the costs of replacing damaged business property and repairing or rebuilding damaged buildings. 
  • Business Interruption – This can help cover lost income if you have a covered wildfire claim or during a mandatory evacuation order due to wildfire. 

Damage caused by wildfires will most likely be covered under your commercial property insurance in Alberta. If you have business interruption or income interruption insurance, mandatory evacuations or damage due to wildfire will also likely be covered. The benefits you receive will depend on your individual policy.  

We recommend all businesses in Alberta carry these insurance coverages to protect their company against the consequences of wildfires. Please contact your insurance advisor to discuss your policy today. 

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