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Prepare and Protect Your Business from Wildfire

In a wildfire event, structures are ignited by embers, flames and/or radiant heat. Embers pose the greatest threat as wind can carry them ahead of a fire front, igniting spot fires in and around buildings. In communities where structures are lost, IBHS has documented a common lack of defensible space, the presence of wooden fences or attachments to buildings, vulnerable vents, excessive vegetation, combustible construction materials, or a combination of these factors.

Start with Critical Prep

Protecting your building from wildfire requires a system of proactive measures. No one thing reduces risk completely. By combining the following critical actions, preparing your building’s exterior and creating defensible space, you significantly improve the likelihood of your building’s survival.

Wildfire Ready Business Guide 

Know what steps will significantly improve the likelihood of your building’s survival. 


1) Create a wildfire preparedness plan

Having a wildfire plan in place ensures the safety of you and your staff. In the event of an evacuation, a plan enables you to make time-sensitive decisions, communicate clearly, and proactively implement measures to prevent damage, safeguard important documents or equipment and reduce business disruption.

  • Create a business continuity plan for wildfire using the OFB-EZ toolkit.
    • Conduct a risk assessment to identify vulnerability of your facilities, identify critical assets and operational functions that could be affected.
      • Accounting (Payables, Receivables, Payroll)
      • Facilities
      • HR/P&O
      • Information Technology
    • Establish an emergency response team responsible for developing and implementing the business continuity plan.
    • Determine who will act for last-minute building prep to move combustible items and inventory indoors and remove tree debris from around your building. (Link to Business Wildfire Evacuation Steps)
    • Define evacuation procedures for employees and customers. Identify evacuation routes, meeting locations, and communication protocols.
    • Implement an IT data backup and recovery system off-site or utilize a cloud-based location.
    • Identify alternate facilities or workspaces where your business could operate in case the primary location becomes inaccessible.
    • Create a communication plan for employees and customers during an event. Develop procedures for sharing updates and emergency procedures.
    • Develop an employee support plan. The plan may include guidelines for remote work and resources for mental health.
    • Conduct regular training and simulation drills.
  • If your business has garages, parking structure gates or roller doors, know (or ensure tenants know) how to open these doors when the power is out.
  • Stay informed:
    • Download the FEMA App to receive alerts from the National Weather Service.
    • Sign up for community alerts in your area.
    • Enable Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEAs) on your cell phone.
  • Know what your insurance covers and what it doesn’t and be sure to document your inventory and equipment.
Applause, motivation and success with a business team clapping during a workshop for learning, coaching and development. Collaboration, teamwork and goal with a crowd in celebration of an achievement


2) Check and maintain your roof and gutters

Embers can travel miles ahead of a fire front, landing on your roof and in open gutters. These embers can easily ignite combustible materials like wood shake shingles and built-up tree debris.

  • Implement a maintenance strategy to routinely keep your roof, gutters, and downspouts clear of all debris, including leaves and pine needles.
  • Ensure your roof is Class A fire-resistant rated, based on ASTM E108 or UL 790. If you cannot determine your roof cover’s fire rating, discuss it with a licensed roof contractor.
  • Flat/Low-slope roofs:
    • Many flat/low-slope roof systems are Class A, but documentation is needed to confirm.
      • Replace sprayed polyurethane foam (SPF) roofing with a Class A roof.
      • Class A roof cover assemblies typically include stone ballasted single-ply membranes, modified bitumen and built-up roofs.
      • Single-ply membrane systems are also often Class A but verification of the entire assembly and its materials should be confirmed to ensure that it meets this rating.
  • Steep-slope roofs:
    • Replace wood shake or wood shingle roofs with a Class A fire-resistant-rated roof cover.
    • Class A-rated roof covers include most asphalt shingles, tile, slate, and metal roofs.
    • NOTE: Any openings between the roof covering and roof deck at the roof edge and/or ridge should be plugged using a noncombustible material (i.e., bird-stopped).
  • Replace domed, plastic skylights with flat, multipaned, tempered glass skylights.
  • Replace plastic gutters with metal gutters such as aluminum.
Roofer worker in special protective work wear use electric drill installing new roofs with metal sheet on top of roof.

3) Install ember-resistant vents

Wind-blown embers can enter your building through vents in the roof and walls, igniting materials inside.

  • Install ember-resistant vents or cover existing vents with 1/8-inch metal wire mesh.
  • Clean vent screens periodically by removing accumulated debris.
  • Install spark arrestors with ½-inch metal wire mesh screening at the outlet of all chimneys.
ventilation grate on the wall of a modern building. Selective focus

4) Ensure a 6-inch vertical clearance on exterior walls

Embers accumulate against buildings at the base of exterior walls and on other horizontal surfaces like decks, ramps, patios or balconies that can ignite the building.

  • Ensure there is a minimum of 6 vertical inches of noncombustible siding material around the base of the building and from any attached horizontal surface like a deck, ramp, patio or balcony. Examples of noncombustible wall material include brick, stone, stucco, fiber-cement siding, and exposed concrete foundation.
4- Six inch clearance

5) Clear and maintain building attachments

Decks, ramps, patios, and balconies attached to or built near your business can provide a pathway for fire to reach your building. Reducing or eliminating the vulnerabilities of a deck, patio, or ramp—including items on top of or underneath—reduces their chance of ignition.

  • On top of your deck or patio
    • Maintain your deck or patio by regularly clearing off vegetative debris.
    • Remove combustible furniture, including wood or plastic furniture.
    • Choose noncombustible furniture like metal or cast aluminum furniture.
    • Ensure any items like planters or mats are small enough to easily be moved inside on Red Flag days.
  • Underneath your elevated deck or ramps
    • Remove anything stored under the deck or stairs.
    • Remove all vegetation—including grass or weeds—from under the deck and stairs.
  • For decks or ramps 4 feet or less (measured from the ground to the walking surface)
    • Enclose the area underneath to keep debris and embers out by:
      • Installing 1/8-inch or finer metal wire mesh around the outer edge of the walking surface extending to the ground, or
      • Installing a noncombustible wall covering.
  • Balconies and patios
    • On Red Flag Days:
      • Communicate with the tenants of condos, apartments, townhomes and similar, to move ALL items from their balconies and patios indoors.
      • For hotels and motels, ask staff to move all items from the balconies and patios to the interior.
5- Accesibility ramps


6) Create a 5-foot noncombustible buffer

During a wildfire, embers can travel miles ahead of a fire front and accumulate at the base of your building’s exterior walls and within the first 5 feet. Anything combustible in this critical zone acts as a fuel source for ignition, increasing the risk of flames spreading to your building.

It is crucial to establish a clear, noncombustible zone that extends 5 feet out from the exterior walls of your building or any nearby structures. This noncombustible area should also be created around attached decks, patios, ramps, balconies, porte cocheres and stairs and unattached structures like garbage containment and storage sheds. By implementing this zone, you can significantly reduce potential for ignition.

  • Remove all vegetation and groundcover in the first 5 feet
    • Remove all vegetation, grass, weeds, shrubs, plants, trees, etc.
    • Remove wood mulch, pine straw, rubber mulch, or other combustible ground covers.
    • Trim back branches that overhang the 5-foot area.
    • Do not allow vines to grow on buildings, fences, or other structures within 5 feet of the building.
  • Install 5-feet of hardscape around your building
    • Install groundcover material such as concrete, gravel, pavers, river rocks or steppingstones. Install 5 feet of hard groundcover surrounding any around attached decks, patios, ramps, balconies, porte cocheres and stairs and unattached structures like garbage containment and storage sheds.
  • Replace combustible fencing within 5 feet
    • Replace wood or plastic fencing and gates within 5 feet of the building with a noncombustible fence, such as metal (aluminum or chain link).
  • Replace combustible awnings
    • Remove combustible awnings or replace awnings with noncombustible material such as metal.
  • Maintain the 5-foot Noncombustible Zone
    • Implement a maintenance strategy to keep the area clear of all tree debris, weeds, grass, and dead plant material at least monthly.
    • Do not allow parking or storage of vehicles, boats, RVs, or ATVs. Ideally, vehicles stored on-site should be parked at least 30 feet away from the building.
    • Do not store combustible items in this zone such as trash, cardboard boxes, wooden pallets, propane tanks, flammable liquids, etc. Small amounts of flammable liquids should be stored in fire-rated cabinets at least 30 feet away from the building.
6-Noncombustible Zone 0

7) Extend your Defensible Space (5-30 feet)

Embers blown from miles away can easily start spot fires around your building. Extending this buffer by creating and maintaining defensible space on your property will slow the spread of fire and reduce flame intensity near your structure. By spacing out bushes and trees, you are removing ladder fuels that allow fire to spread and reducing the intensity of a fire near your building.

  • Implement a routine maintenance strategy
    • Cut grass to at most 4 inches and keep watered.
    • Routinely clear tree debris such as leaves and pine needles.
    • Make sure areas around fences and underneath gates are clear of debris, as this is another area where embers can collect.
    • Remove dead vegetation, including piles from pruning and firewood.
  • Trim trees
    • Remove tree branches less than 6 feet above the ground.
    • Trim tree canopies to ensure at least 10 feet of horizontal space between trees.
    • Work with your neighbors to address trees near the property line that affect both properties.
    • Ask your power company to remove branches that are near power lines. Never attempt to do this job yourself.
  • Shrubs
    • Choose low growing, fire-resistant plants.
    • Relocate any shrubs or bushes located under or near trees.
    • Keep low growing bushes and shrubs spaced out or in small groupings (no more than 3 shrubs) that will result in a discontinuous path of vegetation.
    • Remove any hedges or rows of bushes that will create more fuel and a pathway for fire to reach your structures.
  • Maintain structures near your building
    • Place structures at least 10 feet away from the building or from any attached structure such as a deck or accessibility ramp.
    • Create a 0-5-foot Noncombustible Zone around each structure.
    • Install an enclosed structure for garbage containment.
    • Ensure there is a minimum of 6 vertical inches (measured from the ground up) of noncombustible material at the base of each structure, like the building. For an elevated structure, enclose the base with 1/8-inch metal wire mesh.
    • If you have multiple structures, such as garbage containment and a storage shed, ensure these structures are spaced at least 10 feet apart. Have at most 3 of these structures within 30 feet.
    • Move any large propane tanks from this zone to at least 30 feet away from your building and away from any structures.
7-Defensible Space 5-30

Critical Business Prep

These fundamental, critical steps serve as a starting point before progressing to the next set of actions. If you’re ready, proceed to Exterior Building Upgrades.

Exterior Building Upgrades

After addressing the critical building prep, this group of larger building improvements will give your structure additional levels of protection.

Wildfire-Resistant Landscape

When defensible space is thoughtfully created and well-maintained, it will increase the likelihood your building will survive a wildfire.

Business Evacuation Steps

When wildfire may threaten and time allows, follow these last-minute steps to protect your building.