With wildfire season upon us, cannabis farmers must prepare early in the season by creating a defensible space around their buildings and crops to protect against the threat of complete destruction. Don't just be another wildfire statistic. Stand up to the increasing threat of fire damage with our fire safety tips.
Why Wildfire Prevention Is Important
If 2020’s West Coast wildfires are any indication, cannabis farms will be facing a looming and never-ending threat of wildfire every year. Farmers must prepare well before the wildfire season starts against any fire that can threaten the crop and livelihood of agricultural workers.
California, especially, has suffered the brunt of the fire damage. In 2020, the state had 2.2 million acres burned, more than any other year. California now has the unique distinction of being a cauldron of fire and ash.
Climate change, in particular, plays a critical role in the extent and severity of the wildfire devastation we've seen in recent years. Extreme weather conditions are now a continual threat with sudden cold snaps in Colorado and massive wildfires on the West Coast.
And, it's not just the actual fire that threatens crops. The dust, smoke, ash, and fire retardant common throughout the season can contaminate outdoor farms, making the flower unsafe for commercial sale. A 2018 study found that contaminants from an impact zone can contaminate vegetation and crops hundreds of kilometers away.
Whipping winds can even uproot a plant right from the ground. Not to mention the power outages that can affect any supplement lighting, trimming machinery, or automated systems that can significantly affect the production and throughput during the harvesting season.
Wildfire Prevention Plan for Cannabis Farmers
Cannabis growers that operate in wildfire-prone regions must develop a wildfire prevention plan, if they don't already have one, and regularly assess the plan to address all potential vulnerabilities for growers, the crop, and the property.
Create a Defensible Space
Defensible space refers to the buffer of land between the building or garden and the ignitable trees, grass, shrubs, and wildland area adjacent to it. Creating a proper defensible space between the vegetation and the home or garden can help them from catching fire from a direct heat, radiant heat, or a flying ember.
Removing vegetation such as dead and dying weeds, shrubs, plants, trees, branches, and other vegetative debris in the area around the crops and buildings can reduce the spread of the fire. Removing vegetation and ignitable debris from roofs and rain gutters on buildings as well as low-hanging branches is also advised.
Hardscape such as gravel, concrete, pavers, and other non-combustible mulch materials in the defensible space between the vegetation and the buildings and crops can provide a strong fire defense.
Train Workers and Hold Weekly Safety Meetings
Right before and during wildfire season, it is important to train the staff regularly on the proper procedures to follow to prevent a wildfire and during an emergency evacuation.
Just by taking 5 to 10 minutes every week to reinforce the evacuation plan and how to put out small fires can save growers heartache and money in the long run.
From spring through fall, growers should ensure that workers carry shovels, a water tank, boots, and any other firefighting tools in vehicles to put out small fires.
Bring In Livestock for Grazing
Create a defensible space with help from livestock who can graze on any weeds or excess brush that could be kindling to ignite a deadly fire. Farmers may even be doing the livestock a favor if they are experiencing drought conditions on their property.
Secure Water Sources
Secure an adequate water source including a sprinkler system and water tanks to water outward from the garden and any buildings on the property. In farms with a large water tank, providing a fire hose outlet can give firefighters access to the water source.
Install Air Filtration
In a greenhouse setting, a HEPA, carbon air filter can provide some protection against the smoke and burned rubber and plastics in the air. Growers should regularly check the air filters to determine if they need replacement.
Have a Backup Generator
In the event of a power outage, a backup generator can continue to power the sprinklers, lights, and other important machinery to keep the production on schedule. In addition, the backup generator can power automated systems and security systems that are required for growers to remain state-compliant. This is especially important in the event of an evacuation.
Provide Firefighter Access
Creating a defensible space around your property and leaving plenty of space for fire trucks and firefighters can improve the chances of defending the space.
Growers can consult with their local fire department to perform a fire safety consultation and get recommendations for improved fire safety.
Providing the fire department with access to the lockbox and a master key to all the structures and gates on the property can help save buildings, livestock, and pets.
Test the Soil
Soil testing can help farmers determine if any harmful ash concentrations are ending up in the ground. Since cannabis and hemp are especially good bio accumulators, they can easily absorb these toxins in the ground. While it can be an expensive and time-consuming task, soil testing can ensure the crop is clean.
Select Wildfire Hardy Strains
Growers in wildfire-prone areas may need to consider the cultivars grown on the property. Dense buds with heavy foliage have a greater surface area to promote microorganism growth. Airy and larfy popcorn buds may be less vulnerable to air-borne threats.
In addition, choosing to grow indicas can help speed up the production and flowering process since they are known to finish faster than sativa varieties, which can take considerably longer to reach maturity.
Clean Up Flower with Extraction
Cannabis flower affected by the smoke and fire may still be salvageable if the proper extraction and contaminant remediation is used. For instance, pesticide remediation can improve the quality of the resin if the plants were bombarded with pesticides from another grow. In the end, growers can produce a pure distillate for sale.
Get Crop Insurance
Crop insurance can be an effective safeguard against complete damage and loss. But, as wildfire seasons get more intense, crop insurance availability for cannabis farms is starting to become significantly limited.
Protect Cannabis Farms By Planning Ahead
A comprehensive fire safety plan must be in place to reduce the risk of fire damage to crops and buildings on the property. Wildfires have already proven to cause complete destruction, but farmers can prepare ahead of time to have a better chance of standing up to the fiery threat.