Over 365,000 acres have burned along the eastern coast of Australia in the New South Wale (NSW), the country’s most populous state. As a result, officials declared a state of emergency for the entire state, as conditions have reached “catastrophic”, the nation’s highest bushfire danger rating. Tragically, three people have died while over 150 structures have been destroyed. Even worse, included in those destroyed was a wildlife sanctuary near Port Macquarie, which was home to as many as 350 koalas.
In what has become a big story this week, details are finally emerging about wildfires burning in South America’s Amazon Rainforest. The Amazon fires became bigger news Monday afternoon when Sao Paulo was buried under a cloud of smoke from the fires. Since multiple news outlets and even celebrities (through social media) have pointed out the fact that the South American rainforest’s burning could be detrimental for the earth considering they produce 20% of the world’s oxygen.
August 5th, 2019 marked the 70th year anniversary for the Mann Gulch Fire and tragedy. The fire was discovered on August 5th, 1949 after being started by lightning the night before. 15 firefighters jumped into the fire area to try an keep it small, but and were overtaken by the fire when a change in winds caused the canyon to “blow-up” with them in it. The event killed the district ranger and 12 of the 15 firefighters not long after they arrived on the scene.
June 2019 marked the 20th year anniversary for Operation Santa Ana. Doug Lannon, a retired Cal Fire Assistant Chief from the San Bernardino Unit and current Senior Wildfire Liaison for RedZone, served as the keynote speaker to kick off the training event for this year’s inspection assignments at the Southern California Edison Inc. Training and Educational Facility.
A recent PBS documentary that aired in early May 2019 details accounts of California residents that fled for their lives during the 2018 fire season. It also extensively looks into extreme wildfire behavior, exploring how forestry practices, climate change, and physics play a role in fire activity.
In May, CALFIRE released findings condemning one of California’s major utilities company, PG&E, as the cause for last year’s devastating Camp Fire. Before these findings, the company was already in hot water with responsibility for 2017’s October Fire Siege in Northern California. The 10s of billions in lawsuits associated, forced the company to file for bankruptcy this January and prompted speculation that the Northern California utilities could become state-run. So far that hasn’t happened. But what has happened is that PG&E has decided to address the cause of these major fires by proposing to actually cut power during high-wind days, which could cause blackouts for millions of residents for days at a time.
Unfortunately for most, after a wildfire has passed is when the real work begins. The wildfire may not have impacted the home with direct flame impingement, but even from a distance a wildfire can have many negative effects on a structure. Indirect damage from wildfires can come in many forms, one of the most common being smoke damage. This byproduct of wildfire is a nearly super heated gas that is compromised of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, water vapor, and other toxic particulates that are created during combustion. While a fire is moving in the direction of a home, smoke is constantly being created and pushed towards impacting the structure. (Read more on smoke coloration studies here.)
Any space that is not airtight in your home is likely to fall victim to some of the negative impacts that smoke can have. Some of the areas that are the most common entrances of smoke to a structure would be doors (or any means of ingress and egress for residents and pets), windows, and central air ducts. With enough smoke, these air ducts can be a very efficient means of transportation to areas of the house that one would think are relatively inaccessible to particulate matter.
Once the smoke has entered the structure, it is difficult to stop the damage that follows. This troublesome gas usually leaves soot strewn throughout the home as well as, leaving foul smelling odors throughout the fabric of the home. These odors can be much more hazardous than just an unpleasant smell. The framework and materials of the structure can hold the particulate matter that has been shown to be a carcinogenic in some cases.
What are the steps that should be taken when impacted by smoke damage?
The most common response is “Document”. Document from the first time entering the home since the incident when the damage occurred, and every step in the reimbursement, replacement, and refurbishing process. Documenting these steps will provide records for your interactions with your insurance providers and ultimately make the entire process much smoother for all parties involved. Once the initial damage has been reported, an inspector may be necessary to finalize the reporting process. Going forward, there are two major choices that need to be made: will the damaged materials be replaced or will they be refurbished or cleaned. If the damage to clothing or fabric is minimal to the point that cleaning the surface/clothing is an option, professional cleaners will need to be hired to remove all of the soot and particulate matter from the smoke that settled in the home.
Yet another winter storm is slated to send more rain to Southern California this week and we at RedZone think it warrants a little inside info on the risks of post-fire debris flows. The nation is experiencing its second El Nino effect in three years with it forecast to last in to the summer. What that means, is a higher potential for land-moving rainfall rates in areas where fires have scorched the landscape. After last years tragic events that occurred in the Thomas fire burn scar, officials have not taken the potential of these continued storms lightly. So far this winter, residents have been evacuated near the Holy, Thomas, Cranston, Napa/Sonoma, and Woolsey fires (all recent burn scars from the last couple years).
In Mid-December, Senior Fire Liaison Doug Lannon and I spent a few days surveying the damage from the Woolsey Fire. We toured the 16 mile long fire area with the aim of digesting the fire’s destructive path from a fire behavior and investigative perspective. We were fortunate enough to gain access to a wide range of properties with a range of extent of impact from Bell Canyon all the way to homes right above the Malibu Coast. After a few days of surveying, a familiar story unfolded, yet another destructive and uncontrollable wind-driven Santa Ana fire in California. Read more
Specialists are calling the 2018 wildfire season part of another record-breaking year, specifically due to the property losses in California. They’re also predicting another detrimental 2019 wildfire season. Even though 2018 had less wildfires than 2017, the harm and size surpassed 2017 significantly. With megafires on the rise, companies need to reconsider their risk approach so they can confidently underwrite wildfire threats and proactively receive alerts to grow their portfolios and protect people.