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Fire Sprinkler Systems: Protecting Structures from Firebrands

“There were a total of 5.5 million acres burned by wildfires in 2016. On May 1 of that year, a wildfire broke out in the Alberta city of Fort McMurray. The fire is set to become the costliest ever Canadian natural disaster for insurers, with 1,600 buildings destroyed and more under threat. Two fatalities are attributed to the fire and the entire population of about 90,000 were evacuated. The smoke from the fire could be seen as far south as Iowa.”

Insurance Information Institute

 The number of homes destroyed by wildfires has increased dramatically in recent decades. This is partly due to the large number of new constructions in wildland and urban interface areas, but it is also due to decades of aggressive fire control. Potentially inflammable material has accumulated in many areas, increasing the risk for massively destructive fires. Although firefighters fight valiantly, some wildfires become so large that they are nearly unstoppable.

The good news is that even when a wildfire burns through a populated area, there is still much that homeowners and municipalities can do to prevent buildings from burning to the ground.

The vast majority of structures burned in a wildfire are not burned by the main fire. The main fire sends forth a blizzard of windborne embers called “firebrands” that rain down on the downwind area. These firebrands fall in woodpiles, among dry vegetation, on roofs, in rain-gutters, into attics and vents, among the trees, under decks and among any dry inflammable debris. There, they start the fires that burn down the majority of the houses destroyed in a wildfire.

Preventing these firebrands from igniting homes and nearby structures, as well as the vegetation nearby, gives property owners an excellent chance of coming back to the area after a wildfire to find their homes still standing and unscathed.

 

How can you prevent firebrands from burning your house down?

●    Regularly remove dry vegetation and debris from your roof, rain gutters, and within at least five feet from your house. Preferably more.

●    Put a fine mesh over any vents and open windows that might otherwise allow firebrands to enter your home, your attic, or under your deck.

●    Assume that, unless soaked with water, your wood pile will catch fire. If it is close to the house, it will burn your house down.

●    Many roofs will not catch fire unless there is an overhang where underlying debris can catch it on fire. However, it is preferable to build roofs out of fire-resistant material.

●    It is better to build decks and railings out of fire-resistant material.

●    Remember that your deck and any structures next to your home are part of your home. If they catch fire, they will probably burn your house down.

●    Eliminating any dry vegetation within thirty feet of your home is essential in preventing both firebrands and the main fire from igniting your home.

●    To ensure that neither your home, nor the immediate vicinity, catches fire, use a sprinkler system to soak your home and the immediate vicinity in advance of the oncoming fire.

 

There are a couple of methods in which sprinkler systems can be used to protect structures: portable trailers loaded with sprinkler equipment which can be quickly set up on the scene of an approaching fire, and home sprinkler kits which are designed for a specific structure or set of structures, and can be installed on a temporary basis only when needed, or permanently.

 

Home Sprinkler Systems

“To protect a building, it is important to ensure that all the right areas are receiving enough water to prevent ignition of the fine fuels. When embers shower or the fire sweeps through, materials that ignite easily that are found under decks, next to walls, under the eaves and on roofs of a home, if dry, serve as kindling that can set the structure on fire,” says Albert Roach, owner of A.S. Roach Fire Services Ltd.

To develop a home sprinkler system, Roach’s team consults with property owners, looking at factors such as water source, size and dimensions of the building, and nearby vegetation to come up with a recommended sprinkler design. Depending on the size of the structure, it can require anywhere from 2-8 (or more) sprinklers. Owners may also need to invest in hoses and pumps. WATERAX pumps offer an excellent pressure to volume ratio for these applications.

The Elevated Sprinkler Mount sprinkler mounting system is designed for easy setup and teardown with minimal property damage. Property owners can set it up and turn it on before they evacuate. For maximum effectiveness, it needs to operate before the fire, while it is passing, and for some time afterward, while firefighters are mopping up, so the home doesn’t dry out allowing a residual fire to ignite.

“During an active fire, the fire agencies are usually faced with many issues related to manpower and equipment available, and thus we recommend that structures in areas where wildfire is a danger have a sprinkler system all ready to go. It is not uncommon for homes with sprinklers to survive while their neighbors’ buildings burn,” says Roach.

Be prepared.

Learn more about sprinkler systems and pumps:

A.S. Roach Fire Services Ltd.
WATERAX family of wildland fire pumps

 

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