May is National Wildfire Awareness Month
By Tri Phan, CPCU, ARM
Wildfires are unplanned, uncontrolled, and unpredictable fires that result, typically, from either lightning strikes or human causes. According to the U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, on average, 80% of all wildland fires on Bureau of Land Management-managed lands are caused by humans (Myslivy 2022). Further, 16% of the U.S. population currently lives in wildfire-prone areas (Muyskens 2022). On average, more than 100,000 wildfires clear 4 to 5 million acres of land in the U.S. every year.
In our April Blog post, we published an article about 2023 U.S. Wildfire Forecast, Blog Article, with focus on ways to manage the risk of wildfire and reduce the likelihood of loss. We are revisiting this subject matter because the month of May is National Wildfire Awareness Month. We endeavor to provide you insight into how wildfires spread and destroy property, and what actions property owners can take to mitigate loss.
Examining the Devastating Consequences of Wildfires in California
In 2018, wildfires in the California caused $22 billion in damage, but the total economic impact, including indirect costs, was $148.5 billion. Would it surprise you to learn that the study revealed that California wildfires affected industry sectors and locations distant from the fires? Data indicate that 31% of the total losses in 2018 were from outside of California (Wang 2021).
According to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, the 2020 wildfire season was one of the most destructive in California’s history, with over 9,639 wildfires burning over 4.2 million acres of land, destroying over 10,000 structures, and claiming the lives of 33 people (2020).
Assessing the Risk of Catastrophic Wildfires in California for 2023
California is THE most wildfire-prone state in the United States. From late 2022 through March of 2023, there were 31 atmospheric rivers that hit California and dumped record-setting rain and snow across the state (Toohey 2023). As a result, California is out of the most extreme categories of drought, that is the silver lining. The additional risk then is that as the weather becomes warmer, and wildland plants begin to dry out, it results in significant fuel load increases and the risk of wildfire is now greater. Therefore, wildfires risk in California and the West Coast this year may be catastrophic, property owners must take precautions to minimize property loss and damage my considering and taking action on ways to mitigate exposure.
How Wildfires Spread and Destroy Property
There are three ways that wildfires and spread and cause damage to property.
- Direct flames: Actual flame coming into direct contact with a building/combustible material.
- Airborne embers: Flaming airborne embers can travel more than a mile from the active wildfire. 60% wildland interface home ignitions are from flaming embers landing on flammable roofs/objects. (Smith 2009)
- Radiant heat: A wildfire can raise the temperature of nearby combustible materials to the point of ignition
This house was ignited by flaming airborne embers landing on vulnerable spots. Notice the adjacent forest is not burning. Photo courtesy USFS-LTBMU.
- Create a wildfire evacuation plan and train employees/inhabitants/family members how to use fire extinguishers
- Review and distribute a disaster communication plan
- Create and maintain a supply list
- Plan how property owners can restore critical operations during unplanned disruption in services
- Protect property by creating cleared zones that provide less fuel sources for the fire to spread
- Clean off the roof and gutters to minimize the risk of ignition
- Back up data to the internet cloud or an offsite drive
- Review Insurance coverage: Policy limits, time elements coverage should all be reviewed for adequacy
- If you need help with any of these recommended steps, email Tri Phan email@example.com
“2020 Incident Archive.” CAL FIRE, www.fire.ca.gov/incidents/2020. Accessed 3 May 2023.
Muyskens, John , et al. “1 in 6 Americans Live in Areas with Significant Wildfire Risk.” The Washington Post, 17 May 2022, www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/interactive/2022/wildfire-risk-map-us/. Accessed 3 May 2023.
Myslivy, Jennifer. “BLM AND MAVERIK PARTNER TO PREVENT WILDFIRES” 14 July 2022, https://www.blm.gov/blog/2022-07-14/blm-and-maverik-partner-prevent-wildfires
Smith, Ed, Sistare, Sonya. “Be Ember Aware!”. University of Nevada, Reno. 2009, https://naes.agnt.unr.edu/PMS/Pubs/1510_2005_89.pdf
Toohey, Grace. “Volcano? Climate change? Bad luck? Why California was hit with 31 atmospheric river storms” 11 April, 2023, https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2023-04-11/californias-wild-winter-of-atmospheric-rivers
Wang, D., Guan, D., Zhu, S. et al. Economic footprint of California wildfires in 2018. Nat Sustain 4, 252–260 (2021), https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-020-00646-7