Ahead of Wildfire Season, How Can Timber Tract Owners and Wood Products Manufacturers Stay Protected?

After the onset of the pandemic in March 2020, many Americans began taking home renovation projects into their own hands. As the “do it yourself,” or DIY, trend gripped the nation, demand for source materials like wood spiked.

This unanticipated increase in demand, along with more frequent and severe wildfires, has made it especially critical for timber tract owners and wood products manufacturers to mitigate potential exposures.

Here are key considerations they should keep in mind.

Mitigating Wildfire Risks

As 2020 demonstrated, wildfires present a very serious threat—especially to timber tract owners, whose forestlands can be completely devasted by these events, and wood products manufacturers, who depend on timber tract owners’ wood.

As we enter June, the start of the U.S.’s wildfire season, Pacific-based timber tract owners should ensure they have a strong wildfire prevention and suppression plan in place. This may include:

  • Implementing strong contractual agreements with subcontractors that address requirements for adequate insurance coverage limits, hold harmless agreements and adherance to state regulations.
  • Establishing guidance regarding controlled burns and onsite fire protection, including water trucks, personal fire extinguishers, equipment for defensible space management (e.g., bulldozers, chainsaws, etc.) and spark arresters for all equipment.
  • Implementing requirements for atmospheric cessation of activities.
  • Installing 24-hour surveillance equipment (e.g., satellite imagery technologies, thermal cameras, etc.) to detect smoke, hot spots, and fires.
  • Developing a written wildfire plan and filing it with the state as may be required by applicable law.

Additionally, wood products manufacturers located near or in wildfire zones should ensure that their facilities are protected from wildfires. There are several steps they can take to safeguard their buildings, such as:    

  • Using fire-resistant materials if developing or remodeling facilities.
  • Avoiding gaps in buildings by ensuring vents, drains and weep holes are clean and screened with fine gauge steel wire mesh, and keeping exterior doors, frames, and roofing materials tight-fitting.
  • Using noncombustible shipping containers.
  • Creating a clearance zone around buildings and outdoor structures.
  • Keeping fuel away from buildings.
  • Installing the proper sprinkler and dust collection systems.
  • Investing in wildfire detection technologies.

Both timber tract owners and wood products manufacturers should work with their local fire department to identify access and egress paths, ensure contact information and communication protocols are up to date and establish potential fire service needs.

Securing the Necessary Insurance Coverages

While implementing a strong risk mitigation strategy is essential, doing so should be complemented with an appropriate insurance program. For those in the wood products industry, this may include logger’s broad form insurance, which should encompass coverage for both wildfire suppression as well as property damage caused by wildfires.

After 2020’s record-breaking wildfire season—the largest in California’s modern history, during which nearly 10,000 fires burned over 4.2 million acres of land—it’s more critical than ever for those in the wood products industry across the west coast to do everything in their power to stay protected. By working together with their insurance agents and brokers, timber tract owners, wood products manufacturers and other wood products industry players can have greater peace of mind knowing they are in good hands, no matter the challenges to come.

Josh Gibbons is Vice President and Branch Manager of Chubb's Oregon Branch.

The opinions and positions expressed are the authors’ own and not those of Chubb. The information and/ or data provided herein is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional advice. Insurance coverage is subject to the language of the policies as issued.