The wildfires experienced in late 2017 have resulted in an increased focus on how school sites can reduce the risk of loss of life and property as a result of wildfires though the lessons learned during this severe fire event.
Although there is some dispute as to the underlying reasons for these events, the recently experienced drought and increased numbers of days with high temperatures and wind can create conditions that lend to extreme fire conditions and behaviors.
Public education efforts have focused on residential neighborhoods and structures that are found in the urban wildland interface. School sites that serve these populations are often located in these same areas and can benefit from adapting the best practices used to reduce risk the potential for loss due to wildfires.
The generally accepted best practices in reducing the risk of damage due to wildland fires have been broken into three main categories: defensible space, vegetation management and building hardening.
Defensible Space – An area, as defined by the Authority having jurisdiction, (typically a width of 30 feet or more) between an improved property and a potential wildland fire where combustible materials and vegetation have been removed or modified to reduce the potential for fire on improved property spreading to wildland fuels or to provide a safe working area for fire fighters protecting life and improved property from wildland fire (NFPA, NFPA 1144, 2002, p. 5), or as defined by PRC 4291.
Vegetation Management – Controlling the standing height of grasses, distance of trees, shrubs and scrub to structures and each other. Also, selection of landscaping plants, trees, and shrubs that retain greater moisture content throughout the year and are drought resistant.
Building Hardening – The selection and/or retrofit of existing construction methods, materials and building fixtures to reduce the potential for fire.
Federal, State, County, and State sponsored agencies conduct on-going assessments of risk, based on accepted scientific methodologies. These assessments and general recommendations on how to reduce the risk of property damage can be found at:
• CalFire - https://www.fire.ca.gov/
• FireSafe - local chapter can be found through https://www.cafiresafecouncil.org/index2.php/?page_id=1155
• Your local fire district webpage
Adoption of these best practices may reduce the risk of loss from wildland fires. Contact your Keenan Loss Control representative should you have any questions and/or are interested in a site-specific review.