Over the last few years, wildfires have become a more frequent occurrence throughout the United States, and especially in the Western states. In 2018,, more than 8.7 million acres of land burned as a result of 58,083 wildland fires.
With wildland fires becoming a more prevalent threat to summer camp safety, it’s critical to take steps toward protecting campers, staff, and camp grounds from the dangers of a potential wildfire.
The following list contains actions that camp professionals can take to prepare for the upcoming fire season.
1. Clear Brush and Debris Away from Structures
Pine needles and leaves can be ignition sources for wildfires. Clear these items out of gutters, off structures, and away from decks. Inspect roofs to ensure leaves are not piling up in low spots.
2. Trim Overhanging Trees
In addition to preventing fire from spreading to the building, trimming overhanging trees will reduce debris accumulation on the roof that could ignite.
3. Move Wood Piles Away from Structures
If you have wood piles for campfires, make sure they are at least 30 feet from any structure and covered with a heavy canvas tarp.
4. Remove Dead Trees and Dry Undergrowth
You can’t predict where lightning will strike — but a dead tree poses a greater fire risk if hit by lightning.
5. Don’t Forget about Indoor Structural Risks
Many camp buildings have systems that, if not properly maintained and regularly cleaned, could pose as a fire risk. Make sure to follow routine maintenance and inspection protocols for cooking exhaust systems, gas dryers, exhaust ducts, and fire-burning chimneys.
Don’t overload outlets, and have regular electrical inspections to make sure light switches and outlets are in good working order. Attempt to keep outlets installed away from beds and clothing.
6. Consider Replacing Existing Structural Materials with Fire-Resistive Materials
If you are in an area prone to wildfires, you are at an increased risk of wind-blown embers spreading to your camp. If you have a wood shake roof, consider replacing it with a Class A fire resistive roof material (concrete tile, metal, or composition shingle). Use mesh to cover building openings — vents, chimneys, etc. — to prevent embers from entering structures.
Replace existing siding with fire-resistant materials such as stucco, brick, or concrete masonry.
7. Talk to Your Insurance Carrier
Ask your insurance carrier for fire preparation checklists and resources. Some camps have experienced considerable premium increases because of the prevalence of recent wildfires, and proving that you are taking steps to mitigate your wildfire risks may help keep your premium costs lower.
8. Partner with Your Local Forestry Service
Your local forestry service or authority having jurisdiction can help you learn more about your risks and provide necessary resources that will allow your camp’s location to serve as a hub for firefighting services.
9. Stay Updated on Current and Forecast Exposure
The USDA Forest Service offers a mapping tool that allows you to keep up-to-date on fire exposure in your local area.
It is never possible to completely prevent a wildfire, but taking steps to minimize your camp’s risk is the best way to keep your camp, staff, and campers safe.
Thank you to Darrow Milgrim, Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. Insurance Brokers of California, Inc.; Michael A. Swain, Senior Loss Control Specialist, Markel Insurance; and Eric S. Smith, Senior Business Operations Analyst, Risk Management Services, Philadelphia Insurance Companies, for their contributions to this blog post.