Wildfires out west have been burning their way through the news cycle lately. These natural disasters affect the lives and livelihood of those who work outdoors the most, with greenhouse growers being high on this list (along with farmers, agricultural workers, and more).
Your crops, your employees, and even your own health are at immense risk during such events. However, your entire greenhouse and business could be at the highest risk of actual wildfire damage or destruction— and yes, even a total loss.
So, what can you do about it? While you can’t control natural disasters (let alone wildfires), you can certainly prepare for these events as much as possible.
Nothing can protect your greenhouse from the effects of wildfires and damage 100%, especially if one is raging right now in your area. Still, these following tips can give you some leverage and help you to reduce your overall risk.
Build your greenhouse to be fire-resistant
If you want optimal resistance against wildfire damage, you’ll want to start with it at the very beginning. Think ahead about wildfires from the very first moment you begin the construction of your greenhouse structure to the last.
While smoke and flame mar and tarnish greenhouses made of steel and glass, you can bet that these will be the most structurally resilient to wildfires compared to other materials (and are totally reparable). Wood or plastic construction (including coverings), for example, are much more vulnerable to fire damage and complete compromise.
If you have a choice between a damaged structure or a toppled structure, be sure to opt for fire-resistant materials— these will only leave you with a damaged structure after the worst effects of a wildfire, not a toppled one. Some experts may even recommend you go the extra mile: ensure taht any electrical hookups, growing materials, and overall greenhouse growing setups are completely fire-retardant inside the greenhouse to prevent fire damage, too.
Upgrade your greenhouse to be fire-resistant
Didn’t consider wildfires while planning your greenhouse construction? That’s OK— it’s not too late for an upgrade. Invest in structural coverings, electrical hookup upgrades, and even an update to your entire greenhouse shell or skin (from plastic to glass, or even plastic to flame-retardant plastic) to put your mind at ease.
While these upgrades may seem more expensive and time-consuming up front, you won’t regret them at all compared to a total loss of your greenhouse and business, which an be much more costly (and anguishing). Be sure to have a fire emergency or evacuation plan in place, too.
Last but not least: set up a smart design indoors in case wildfire embers or debris, if they do stray into your structure, start a fire. Few growers realize that the most ideal fire conditions are actually right inside their greenhouses: highly flammable materials, oxygen, and air flow!
Create a firebreak
If you have the means, creating and maintaining a firebreak around your greenhouse structure(s) is highly recommended. This is especially advisable in arid areas where fires are becoming a regular occurrence, such is in the American West and Pacific Northwest.
Firebreaks can be as simple as consistently mowed paths and patches around your structures, to fire-resistant vegetation, moats, and even just bare open soil. These methods prevent a fire from burning straight through and close to your greenhouse. Though keep in mind: intense wildfires can still jump firebreaks, making them far less than 100% protective solutions in the worst cases.
Close your ventilation systems
Wildfire damage isn’t just literal fire damage. Smoke, ash, and soot can be damaging, too— especially to your crops, their quality, and your greenhouse profits and hobby, no less. If you and your employees are spending time in the greenhouse with wildfire smoke nearby, breathing it in while working is definitely no good, either.
Though your crops no doubt require minute air flow and ventilation specifications to flourish, it is advisable to close ventilation whenever you can. This includes HVAC components, manual side vents, roof vents, doors, etc. when you really don’t need them and to limit their use whenever possible.
If you have the means, upgrade or establish ventilation settings that allow minimal air intake from outside to inside, so your crops don’t become spoilt or unhealthy.
Keep your eye on news and weather conditions
This is all part of prevention. Keep track of the news and the latest movements of wildfires on the regular. This is especially recommended if you anticipate one raging in your area, potentially putting your greenhouse and products at risk.
Wind direction, gusts, and speed are target conditions to look out for. Even without explicit fire warnings, these can help you predict an unpleasant visit from a wildfire from a neighboring region straight to yours.
If there’s anything worse than damage from a wildfire that you tried to prevent, it’s damage from a wildfire that caught you off guard! Don’t be caught off guard: stay informed.
When all else fails…
Again, wildfires are not 100% preventable. They can cause destruction, loss of profits, and damaged quality for tons of agriculturists and greenhouse growers, no matter how prepared they are.
The best preparation for wildfires may be a greenhouse insurance policy. Even if your structure is currently covered in a blanket policy, it helps to have more greenhouse-specific coverage well-ahead of the irreversible destruction and damage that wildfires can cause.