The massive scale of these fires makes the
headlines, but it is the tiny embers that
ignite and spread them. If they haven’t
already, wineries exposed to wildfires
should adopt a few crucial risk management practices:
• Secure structural vulnerabilities —
Small gaps and openings leave large
structures vulnerable to infiltration by
embers. Cover attic vents with a 1/8-
inch (maximum) wire mesh to keep out
embers or firebrands. Ensure garage or
barn doors close completely and seal
gaps with weather stripping. If a pergola, fence or other structure is attached
to a primary structure, install a metal
flashing strip about 18 inches tall where
it attaches to the main building.
• Create a low- or non-combustible zone
— Prune trees and shrubs a minimum
of five feet away from roofs, eaves, windows, siding and attachments. Clear
away dead and dying vegetation on an
ongoing basis. Install hard surfaces like
stone or gravel around the perimeter of
structures to create a fuel break.
• Create a defensible space — Brush and
vegetation provide a fuel source to
carry fire within the boundaries of a
property. Ensure there is a minimum
of 30 feet of defensible space around
structures by reducing the continuity
of vegetative fuels. That means mowing
grasses and clearing shrubs, as well as
isolating trees or separating them into
small groups to break canopy continuity. Trees should be trimmed to a minimum of 10 feet above the ground; clear
all dead and downed debris to eliminate ladder fuels. Replace landscaping
plants with native, low-growing, fire-resistant varieties.
If agents take the time to help address
the insured’s fire vulnerabilities, they may
reduce a winery’s claims severity.
3. Take accurate inventories
Wineries and vineyards in California
can sprawl over 1,000 acres and include
a diverse array of risks to insure from
tasting rooms and barrels of aging wine
to grape vines and irrigation systems.
Insureds often approach insurance policies from the perspective that only one
risk will need coverage at a time. But a
wildfire can destroy an entire property
and its infrastructure. When a wildfire
rolls over the hill, not only do structures burn, but pieces of infrastructure
melt, such as pumps and electrical connections that may be sitting out in the
middle of a field.
That makes it critically important for
agents to take accurate and thorough inventories when initially preparing a policy for a winery, and for adjusters to do the
same while investigating a wildfire claim.
Working with the insured, agents need to
inventory the property and determine exactly what is being insured. The insured
should not have any surprises when it
comes time to file a claim. If coverage is
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