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The risk of ignition of wildfires increases as the temperature rises



Extreme heat and drought conditions in the western United States increase concerns about a dangerous fire season ahead, but there are measures companies can take to reduce losses.

About 88% of western land is in drought conditions, while more than 50% are in extreme or exceptional drought, according to the US Drought Monitor, a collaboration between the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the US Department of Agriculture National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Prolonged extreme drought usually increases the risk of fire in forest areas, although dry conditions can limit the growth of vegetation in grasslands, potentially reducing the risk in these areas, experts say.

Naturally occurring forest fires are most often caused by lightning, while artificial ignitions include power lines and tools, non-extinguished campfires, sparks from the trailer chain's on vehicle trailers, cigarettes and fireworks.

Among natural sources of ignition, lightning is greatest, says Robyn Heffernan, national meteorologist and dispersal meteorologist at the NOAA National Weather Service in Boise, Idaho.

The southwest monsoon season, which began on June 1

5, usually contains a lot of lightning, she said. Monsoon rains may reduce fire activity in the southwest, but in adjacent areas, such as further north in the Great Basin, Rockies and along the west coast, lightning can ignite new fires, Heffernan said.

Drought is only one component of the risk of fire, and sources of ignition, as well as the weather at the time of ignition, are critical, says Philip Cunningham, senior researcher at the AIR Worldwide Corp. disaster model. in Boston.

Forest fires caused by artificial ignitions are usually more than fires from natural ignitions, but by 2020 almost all major fires were caused by lightning, he said.

Particularly in California, unusually large amounts of dry lightning were seen in August, igniting hundreds of fires, he said.

The August Complex fire, which was started by lightning in August 2020, was the largest in California history based on acres burned, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. It spread over 1 million acres and affected seven counties.

Unlike artificial ignition, which tends to occur in more populous areas, lightning fires often begin in remote areas, meaning they can grow large before they are detected, Mr Cunningham said.

Maintaining sufficient defensible space around building structures is crucial to reduce the likelihood of loss, experts say.

Entrepreneurs should keep properties well maintained, clear brushes and cut down trees around the sides of buildings or roofs that could potentially ignite, said Mr. Cunningham. Keeping roofs free of debris is especially important because winds can blow embers hundreds of feet or even miles, igniting materials, he said.

The best thing companies can do is check for damage to their sites, provided a wildfire has ignited and is on its way to their facility, says Katherine Klosowski, global vice president of natural hazards and structures at FM Global, in Johnston, Rhode Island.

Passive protection methods for industrial buildings include the use of non-combustible construction, such as masonry walls, concrete blocks, brick walls or even an insulated metal panel with low flammability, Klosowski said.

"Protecting the walls and roof of a plant with non-combustible materials is first and foremost important," she said.

Designing buildings without shutters under doors or around windows and installing blankets over air conditioning openings helps prevent sparks from glowing from a distance from an industrial plant, Mrs Klosowski.

Automatic protection such as sprinklers installed on the outside as well as inside buildings can also minimize damage.

Companies can install lightning rods on a roof or the highest point of a plant, said Klosowski. If lightning strikes the structure, it will hit the bar and bring the charge down to the ground, she said.

Building in layers of protection is important, she said. “Big losses often have a series of events that go wrong. … If you can break that cycle, you have a better chance of protecting the business, she says.

The cost of lightning caused increases due to the 2020 fires, according to a spokeswoman for the Insurance Information Institute in New York

"The average cost per lightning application in California was $ 217,555 last year, while the national average for this type of claims was nearly $ 29,000 by 2020, "she said.

The severity of forest fires means that homes and other structures are often destroyed rather than partially damaged, which pushes the damage value higher, III spokeswoman said. The probability of total loss also increases if a wildfire spreads rapidly in an area that is difficult to access, she said.

Reconstruction can be costly because the price of materials such as timber is higher and supply chain problems from the pandemic have contributed to rising construction costs, III said the spokeswoman. Catalog

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