With climate change related to higher temperatures and drier weather conditions comes the threat of wildfire season. A wildfire can be devastating to a self storage business. An article from The Wall Street Journal indicates that wildfires could increase by up to 57% by the end of the century. (wsj.com, 2022) Following are conditions that set the stage for wildfires and in addition to corresponding tactics to improve your wildfire resilience.
What Causes Fires in Self Storage Facilities?
Many self storage facility fires are caused by improperly stored flammable goods or packaging, however other fire risks include the following (Jensen, 2020):
Overcrowded units: Units that are overpacked with boxes and other goods create a huge fire risk.
Poor or no extinguishing systems: A fire-extinguishing system, such as sprinklers, can prevent a fire from spreading, however, if it’s not configured properly, or covers too small of an area, it may be inadequate to seriously tackle a fire.
Insufficient water supply: Some self storage facilities may have low water pressure, which may be inadequate for fire-suppression systems as well as those of the local fire department.
Inadequate detection: When employees or tenants are not around, an automated detection and alert system is a key element needed for notifying the fire department. Without such a system, serious damage is likely to occur before authorities are even aware of an incident.
Human acts: Two of the biggest causes of fires in self storage facilities are human error and arson. This includes smoking near flammable objects, faulty installation of electrical equipment, improperly stored items, and storing prohibited/flammable items inside units. Sadly, there are also a number of deliberate crimes that are designed to destroy property.
Landscape management & Disaster Preparedness: Dry landscaping, mulch coupled with the higher temperatures and winds – especially when close to the self storage facility can also spark a fire if there are any flying embers.
What Can Be Done to Protect a Self Storage Facility from Fire?
There are a number of tactics for self storage facility owners. In California, most self storage facilities are Type II or Type III construction consisting of non-combustible concrete or masonry or light gauge steel. (Valli Architectural Articles, 2006)
Whether you’re in California or another state, all self storage facilities absolutely need a class-A and -B fire extinguisher as well as sprinklers. A sprinkler system is key for reducing fire, smoke, and water damage since it’ll use far less water than responding firefighters.
Here are some other simple tactics to protect your property from fire. It’s also key that staff members are trained and informed, safety equipment is available and in working order, and preplanned/drilled/validated protection routines and strategies are in place.
Conduct a fire-risk assessment to evaluate the construction and layout of your structures. (Alalouff, 2022) This can identify any inherent risks as well as any paths through which smoke and fire may spread. The most effective risk assessments don’t have a start or end point; rather, they continue throughout a property’s lifecycle.
Continually review and upgrade your fire-extinguishing devices. Check exit signage and alarms to ensure they’re up to code. Faulty equipment or unclear signage can cause devastation of a facility. (Park, 2016)
Ensure facility managers and staff are fully trained and safety routines are up to date. All personnel should be able to identify any potential fire risks, so training and education is key.
Implement policies regarding vehicle parking such as not parking immediately adjacent to buildings due to the potential of leaking flammable material.
Fire-detection and -protection equipment should be positioned so it doesn’t impede the movement of people or the transfer of goods to and from storage units.
Ensure video cameras, perimeter barriers and lighting are checked regularly and updated to work as effectively as possible.
Institute rigorous ID checks and access protocols. Common motives for arson are domestic disputes and conflicting ownership claims.
Apply Firewise landscaping with “lean, clean, green design”. (University of Florida Gardening Solutions, n.d.) :
Creating an area of “defensible space” with “fire dept. emergency access” to lessen the risk of wildfires. This is a space between natural areas (like woods) and your facility. This space breaks up the continuity of plants, giving the facility a better chance of surviving if fire comes near.
Planting plants that are low in flammability to reduce the likelihood that a fire will jump from a wooded area to your facility. This includes plants with thick, succulent leaves such as cacti, aloe, and century plants that maintain high leaf moisture content and take longer to ignite.
Making sure any shrubs, vines, and small trees are pruned to 10 feet off the ground.
Keeping tall trees away from the facility and using short shrubs in foundation plantings. Groups of plantings should be separated by nonflammable areas, such as gravel, stepping stone pathways, or a well-maintained and healthy lawn. If you use mulch, try to limit it to the area of landscape outside of the defensible space, as mulches can be flammable.
To keep your landscape firewise, keep up with routine maintenance: don't delay necessary pruning and irrigation, and remove dead leaves, branches, and plants from your property.
A lot of fireproofing hinges on staff and tenant education. Since many self-storage fires are caused by human error or arson, ensuring employees and tenants are aware of rules and responsibilities goes a long way toward increasing fire safety. Additionally, making sure your facility has the proper equipment, such as sprinklers, smoke detectors, and fire extinguishers along with firewise landscaping will increase preparedness and resiliency for the upcoming wildfire season. For assistance with upgrading or making your facility more firewise, give the experts at Forge a call!
Alalouff, R. (2022, February 28). IFSEC Global. Retrieved from ifsecglobal.com: https://www.ifsecglobal.com/fire-news/guide-fire-risk-assessment-get-one/ Jensen, O. (2020, September 1). Inside Self-Storage. Retrieved from Inside Self-Storage: https://www.insideselfstorage.com/disaster/tips-increase-fire-prevention-and-safety-your-self-storage-facility Park, C. (2016, August 11). IFSEC Global. Retrieved from ifsecglobal.com: https://www.ifsecglobal.com/fire/a-guide-to-fire-alarm-system-types-2/ University of Florida Gardening Solutions. (n.d.). Retrieved from gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu: https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/design/landscaping-for-specific-sites/firewise-landscaping.html Valli Architectural Articles. (2006). Retrieved from Valliarch.com: http://www.valliarch.com/press-awards/articles/article06.pdf wsj.com. (2022, February 23). Retrieved from The Wall Street Journal: https://www.wsj.com/articles/wildfires-will-become-more-intense-and-frequent-u-n-study-finds-11645652588