Who is ready for spring? I certainly am. But maybe not quite ready for the spring cleaning and maintenance that comes along with it! In November 2013, NFPA published a report which examines the circumstances, causal patterns of brush, grass and forest fires reported to local fire departments. The report shows how many people do not realize the frequency (municipal or county) fire departments around the country are called to smaller brush, grass and forest fires. During 2007-2011, local fire departments responded to an estimated average of 334,200 brush, grass, and forest fires per year. This translates to 915 such fires per day.
- Only 10% of these fires were coded as forest, woods, or wildland fires;
- Two of every five (41%) were brush or brush and grass mixtures;
- More than one-third (37%) were grass fires; and
- 13% were unclassified forest, brush or grass fires or unclassified natural vegetation fires.
(Report: NFPA's "Brush, Grass and Forest Fires"Author: Marty Ahrens Issued: November 2013)
The buildup of exterior vegetation on properties can be a prime ignition source for fire, especially if left untouched and not maintained. NFPA 1, Fire Code, Chapter 10, includes requirements for new and existing buildings in a wide variety of general safety topics. Every new and existing building or structure must be constructed, arranged, equipped, maintained and operated in accordance with NFPA 1 to provide a reasonable level of life safety, property protection, and public welfare from hazards created by fire and other hazardous conditions. When we think of maintenance, we often think of the maintenance of fire protection systems such as sprinklers and fire alarm. But, maintenance of the property is also important to the overall protection strategy of the building and cannot be overlooked.
The Code requires that cut or uncut weeds, grass, vines, and other vegetation be removed when determined by the AHJ to be a fire hazard. This is not intended to prohibit landscaping around buildings or in other areas. This requirement addresses unmaintained materials such as weeds, grass, and brush. In many instances, fire has spread either into an area or a building or between areas or buildings because of vegetation that has grown up around a building. Vegetation should be removed from around buildings, storage areas, and other areas to prevent the spread of fire. Fires have occurred in wood chips and mulch placed around buildings and then extended to the buildings.
Example of vegetation close to a building.
When the AHJ determines the total removal of growth is impractical due to size or environmental factors, approved fuel breaks to prevent fire spread must be defined and established and designated ares must be cleared of combustible vegetation to establish the fuel breaks. For additional guidance, users may refer to Chapter 17 of the Code which provides minimum requirements for planning, construction, maintenance, education, and management elements for the protection of life and property in areas where wildland fire poses a potential threat to structures.
The provisions of Chapter 10 are general maintenance provisions for all types of exterior vegetation that may pose a fire threat and should be enforced in all regions and for all buildings/occupancies.
Have you dealt with maintenance of exterior vegetation at your facility? Has your jurisdiction experienced many fires related to brush or maintained properties? How do you as a fire inspector manage this issue? Share your thoughts here!
Happy Friday, stay safe!