California Wildfire Cleanup and Restoration Tips

Topics: Loss Control

Several fast-moving wildfires remain active across the state of California, making 2018 one of the most destructive wildfire seasons to date. In terms of acreage burned, 2018 has already surpassed the 2017 season, and thousands of homes and commercial structures have been destroyed or damaged. Thousands more, sadly, are still at risk.

Wildfires can occur when prolonged dry weather decreases the moisture levels of grass, brush and trees. Additionally, the California weather in November brought high winds, which resulted in another round of devastating wildfires across the southern region of the state.

California Wildfire Recovery: How to Get Started



The Camp Fire in Butte County has destroyed over 12,000 structures, while the Woolsey Fire is responsible for destroying over 1,700 structures. As firefighters throughout California are still working to contain these two wildfires, businesses in the area are preparing to start recovery and restoration efforts.

California agents should be prepared for the influx of calls from clients ready to start the claim process. It’s important for workers involved in the cleanup to understand the risks involved in the restoration, which according to the CDC include:
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Respiratory issues caused by ash, soot and other materials
  • Electrical hazards
  • Possibility of igniting a new fire
  • Strains and injuries to hands, knees, shoulders and back
  • Operating heavy equipment
  • Extreme fluctuations in temperature
  • Exposure to hazardous materials

Often, professional cleaning services or fire or smoke remediation contractors are needed for cleanup efforts following a fire due to the specialized equipment and services necessary for proper restoration. It’s imperative that any workers assisting in the California wildfire cleanup efforts have access to protective clothing items like hard hats, goggles, gloves, steel-toed boots, dust masks or respirators, etc.

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health offers guidelines to help business owners get started on the cleanup and restoration process after a fire, too. A few general tips include:
  • Ventilate the area by opening doors and windows 
  • Remove burnt debris as soon as possible to reduce odors
  • Avoid using deodorants as they mask odors that can indicate health concerns
  • Install dehumidifiers to reduce moisture in the air if water was used to extinguish the fire
  • Plastic surfaces like PVC windows should be cleaned using a mild alkali detergent to remove acidic soot that can activate moisture in the air and cause permanent staining

Wildfire Loss Prevention Tips

When your clients are located in a region like the Western United States that is prone to wildfires, there are some things they can do to help reduce some of the damage caused by such a disaster. Businesses should be aware of the type of Fire Hazard Severity Zone (FHSZ) they are located in, which is typically classified as extreme, high or moderate. This is based on an evaluation of their area, including fire history, plants and landscaping, slope and other terrain features that can impact the growth and spreading of wildfires. Knowing the FHSZ rating will impact the construction ordinances and material requirements that can help reduce some of the damage caused by wildfires.

Additionally, understanding how to create a defensible space around a commercial building can increase the likelihood of a business surviving a wildfire. A defensible space is the area between the building and the approaching fire where landscaping has been managed to reduce damage. For instance, 30-100 feet away from the property line (known as Zone 3) should feature trees and brush that are spaced in such a way that fires are forced to drop from tree crowns to the ground. The area 5-30 feet from the property line (Zone 2) should feature well-spaced vegetation that is maintained and healthy, while tall grasses, hanging branches and other plants that allow fire to climb up trees are completely eliminated. Finally, in Zone 1, which is 0-5 feet from the building, planting woody vegetation should be avoided, and the plants and trees that are in this area should be carefully managed at all times.

For more information about how commercial properties can stay better protected from wildfires, please click here. The Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS) also offer a variety of resources on their website for businesses located in areas susceptible to wildfires.

Loss Control from AmTrust Financial

AmTrust Financial’s Loss Control Department offers resources to help small business owners learn how to better protect their commercial property from a variety of risks, including wildfires. Additionally, we can help insureds identify specific hazards and offer solutions that fit each operation. We are dedicated to providing the right recommendations and resources necessary to create an effective loss prevention program for small businesses. Please contact us today to learn more.

This material is for informational purposes only and is not legal or business advice. Neither AmTrust Financial Services, Inc. nor any of its subsidiaries or affiliates represents or warrants that the information contained herein is appropriate or suitable for any specific business or legal purpose. Readers seeking resolution of specific questions should consult their business and/or legal advisors.
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