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Apr. 11, 2012

How to Minimize Property Damage in the Event of a Wildfire

By Jessica Fiur, News Editor

New York—Recently, areas of Long Island, N.Y., Staten Island, N.Y., and areas of New Jersey have been ravaged by brush fires. According to reports, these devastating fires have destroyed 100 acres of land and sent three firefighters to the hospital. Additionally, three buildings have been destroyed. As summer approaches and the temperatures go up, it is important for multifamily owners and property managers to protect their buildings from such brush fires.

The Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS), an independent, nonprofit research and communications organization, is providing fire safety tips for property managers, specifically to those in the New York and New Jersey region, with a resource called “Wildfire Retrofit Guide—Mid-Atlantic/Northeast Edition.”

According to IBHS, there are three elements that threaten buildings during a wildfire. These include windborne embers, direct place contact and radiant heat.

To protect a building from a fire, owners should pay particular attention to the state of the surrounding area.

The area within five feet of the building can be particularly vulnerable to flames from wind-blown, ember-ignited vegetation or other combustible materials, Dr. Steve Quarles, senior scientist at IBHS, tells MHN. “Do not store combustible materials near buildings or under decks and select small, non-woody vegetation and use noncombustible rock mulch products in the five-foot zone that extends from the building’s exterior walls,” he advises.

Additionally, gutters should be cleaned frequently to avoid becoming a fire hazard.

“Pine needles and leaves that accumulate in gutters and on roofs can be easily ignited by embers so be sure to routinely remove accumulated debris from gutters and roofs,” Dr. Quarles says. “For added protection, install a drip edge at the eave, where the gutter is attached at the roof edge.”

Windows are another area in buildings that should be checked often.

“Property managers should make sure that screens are maintained and are in good repair,” said Dr. Quarles says. “Residents should know to close their windows and sliding glass doors when a wildfire threatens—the most vulnerable window is one left open.”

For additional information, owners and property managers can use the Wildfire Risk Assessment Checklist at the end of the IBHS wildfire guide to view retrofit projects that they can undertake to help minimalize the damage that could occur in the event of a fire.