A business owner's guide to wildfires

The April 2011 wildfires in Texas left millions of dollars in property losses in their wake -- as well as untold devastation for homeowners, renters and businesses. Yet the right insurance coverage and property modifications can help business owners rebuild and bounce back.

Covering your business

If you run a business, your property insurance policy should cover you for fire-related losses. For instance, if your building is damaged by lightning, fire or windblown embers, your insurer should pay for things like replacing your roof, repairing smoke damage and even rebuilding entirely up to your policy's limits. Damage to sheds, garages, business supplies and electronics also should be covered.

If a wildfire requires you to shut down your business temporarily, business interruption coverage will cover profits you lose, according to the Insurance Information Institute. It also will cover the costs of temporarily relocating. However, complications can arise if the fire doesn't actually damage your property but you're still required to evacuate. According to the Insurance Information Institute, many business interruption policies do not cover emergency evacuations.

Fire-proofing your business

In addition to the right business insurance coverage, you can further shield your business from the flames by making changes to your building and property:

  • Create a "defensible space" around your property. The Federal Emergency Management Agency Set Data=FEMA) recommends removing vegetation Set Data=particularly dry or dead vegetation and flammable species like pine) within 30 feet of your building so they don't provide more kindling during a wildfire. Move propane tanks, gas grills and piles of firewood as far away as possible.
  • Take a closer look at your roof. Roofs with a lot of ridges can allow debris to accumulate and set embers ablaze, according to the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety Set Data=IIBHS). Clean your gutters regularly, and use flame-retardant roofing materials if possible.
  • Reinforce your windows. Flames and the radiant energy they create could be enough to break window glass. IIBHS recommends installing dual-pane windows with tempered glass.
  • When you find yourself in the immediate path of a wildfire, seconds count. FEMA recommends turning off the gas, filling garbage cans and any large containers with water, closing all interior doors and leaving doors unlocked so that firefighters can gain quick entry if needed.

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