As Canadian heatwave burns on, it's time to get wildfire ready

Firm offers advice based on years of experience

As Canadian heatwave burns on, it's time to get wildfire ready

Catastrophe & Flood

By Bethan Moorcraft

The British Columbia Wildfire Service has reported 600 wildfires in the province since April 01, covering a total 47,050 hectares. The Prince George and Kamloops areas have been the most heavily impacted, with 226 fires over 41,471 hectares, and 120 fires over 3,838 hectares respectively.

With summer temperatures soaring countrywide, the risk of further fires is heating up.  

FirstOnSite Restoration, an independent disaster restoration services provider, has been on the frontlines of the decade’s largest forest fires, including last year’s BC wildfires, the catastrophic Fort McMurray wildfire in 2016, and the Slave Lake wildfire in 2011. The firm recently released some top tips to help property owners mitigate their wildfire exposures.

“We would advise any property owner, whether commercial or personal, to create a 10-metre defensible space around their property, which means clearing away any highly combustible material like twigs, branches, leaves, brush, wood piles and mulch,” said William Elliot, branch manager (Calgary), FirstOnSite Restoration. “We also suggest making your roof is fire-resistant, using materials like asphalt, metal, slate or tile, and regularly clearing gutters of any debris.

“In areas surrounding the property, we also suggest the removal of close-by coniferous trees, the pruning of any low-hanging branches, and mown and well-watered grass. In addition, we advise property owners to have a ‘bug-out bag,’ which is an emergency kit including a fire extinguisher, bottle of water, non-perishable food, first aid kit, survival blanket, phone charger, and important documents like insurance papers and personal identification.”

All of FirstOnSite Restoration’s tips apply to personal and commercial property owners or managers. Where commercial organizations face added exposure is in the threat to business continuity and asset portfolios. If a commercial organization is closed down for too long, it could very easily go out of business. Therefore, it’s incumbent upon businesses to get back up and running, even at a temporary location, as quickly as possible.

FirstOnSite Restoration has been heavily involved with commercial entities in Fort McMurray after the devastating 2016 fire. In the immediate aftermath, the firm offered temporary trailers to get businesses back up and running, as well as providing temporary utilities, and moving stock away from danger zones.

“We will stay with a client until the job is done. We could be there for six months or it could be two years. We have to work with local municipalities to make sure buildings are up to scratch with regards to building codes and permits, and then we’ll stay until a business is back up and running smoothly,” Elliot told Insurance Business.Recovery has taken some time in Fort McMurray, but it’s mostly residential where they’re still working. Businesses have to get up and running right away, otherwise they won’t survive.”

The key thing for any property owner to ensure is that they’ve got adequate insurance coverage, Elliot stressed. He described it as “devastating” dealing with families who don’t have the appropriate coverage or limits when they’ve lost everything to a wildfire.

“The Slave Lake fires in 2011 were a big lesson in how important it is for restoration companies to be prepared and pre-plan prior to sending in crews,” he added. “We learned that sometimes you have to stop, take a deep breath, and assess the situation with a calm eye, so that when you go full out, you’re well prepared. That set us in good stead for when Fort McMurray rolled around in 2016 and the BC wildfires last year.

“In this business, there are no certainties. You have to be prepared for everything because one lightning strike or one change in the wind and a situation can vary dramatically. When the Fort McMurray fires started burning, no-one expected the loss to be as bad as it was. We have to be prepared for everything and anything.”



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