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Fire At The Winery – Rural Agricultural Fire Prevention for Wineries & Farms

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As you read the following keep one thing in your mind:
“Fighting Fires with No Hydrants – No City Water Lines”

“It’s so picturesque here!” those were the words that tumbled out of my old friends mouth after driving an hour in silent reverence from Santa Rosa to a famous and remote St. Helena winery in rural Sonoma County.

And he was absolutely right, we could see the lake, the rugged landscape, and fine lines of grapes crisscrossing the hillside… but all I could think of was “How the hell do I get out of here in a fire?”

My wife and I had the same conversation once when considering buying a house in the Fairfax Hills. “Death Trap” was all I said about the neighborhood, but my house burned down when I was a kid so I think about fire more than most I suppose.

My business being water tanks and firefighting equipment, I realized early on that though many newer wineries have fire protection tanks, older ones many times do not. I began to wonder if wineries in general have considered the true logistics of fire protection and suppression.

Last month on Aug. 19th 2015 in Washington State, Ventimiglia Cellars Winery was destroyed by fire. Full story HERE

This quote below is straight from the story on Aug 3rd 2015, when the Charlton Winery in Charlton Massachusetts burnt to the ground:
Twelve communities (districts) responded but firefighters had a struggle because there was no water supply at the top of the hill where the distillery (winery) was located.

“There was a lot of alcohol in the wine itself and they utilize a lot of fertilizer as well and they use different things to process so there’s a lot of cutting torches and welding and a lot of metal. There’s a lot of hazards through the whole entire area,” Charlton Fire Chief Charles Cloutier, Jr. told reporters.

Full story HERE

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The Charlton Winery was in one of those “picturesque” areas; up on a hill, remote, lovely, all that… but no water. Think about how many of those places there are in Napa & Sonoma Counties.

It is a safe bet most wineries have never called their local fire department and asked what the response time might be to their location. That would be a sobering conversation.

So, I would like to ask all winery owners, vineyard managers, anyone who works the land or at an on-property tasting room or resort a few simple questions:

  • Do you know who your local responder is?
  • Have you ever considered asking your local fire responder to come to your property and assess your preparedness? CAL FIRE calls this “pre-planning”, you can call them and ask about it. Go HERE
  • How long it would take local fire responders to get to your location, and how much water will those trucks would be carrying?
  • Where are all access points to water located on your property? Are they well marked? Do you have this in a map form, is your staff familiar with it? Do you have copies to give to fire responders in an emergency?
  • Do you REALLY have a 100 foot defensible zone around your structures?
  • Do you have an emergency disaster plan for fire & earthquakes?
  • Do you conduct drills with your staff on what to do during a fire?
  • Do you have an evacuation plan?
  • If you have Spanish Speaking Workers, do you have all this information for them in Spanish? Practice Drills in Spanish?Read what happened last month in Washington because of a language barrier between workers and alert systems, Go HERE
  • How are you fixed for extinguishers, can they handle chemicals?
  • Do you have a big shed full of flammable chemicals which can rapidly fuel a fire? Are those flammable chemicals next to your fertilizer? Where is your diesel and gasoline stored? Propane?
  • Do you have big piles of old pallets on your property? Fence posts or felled trees?
  • Do you have a water tank, how many gallons? How many tanks?

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I can go on and on…but let’s concentrate on wineries that do have a Water Tank for either Fire Prevention or Irrigation, or hopefully both.

  • What Size fittings are on your tank?Prior to writing this I consulted with Battalion Chief Scott McLean of CAL FIRE.

    Battalion Chief Mclean replied:

    “2-1/2 inch male fittings, National Hose Thread, in diameter are ideal for off the tank but, 1-1/2 inch male fittings, National Hose Thread, can work as well.

    2-1/2 inch, National Hose Thread is the ideal in terms of uniformity and flow for CAL FIRE. This needs to be supported by a sufficient size plumbing system as well. Is there a pump within the system that needs to be activated and how is this done? Are there printed displayed instructions for Fire Responders?”

  • Is there a free and clear working area around your tank so fire responders can move in various piece of equipment and vehicles?
  • Do you regularly test the valves on your tank so they are not “frozen” in an emergency situation?
  • Are there smaller water tanks dispersed around your property holding dedicated fire water? 2500-5000 Poly Tanks? This tends to be a very big deal.
  • Do you regularly verify water levels in your tank?

Do you want or will your insurance allow your staff to begin fire counter-measures prior to the arrival of your local fire provider? Here are some things to consider, but check with your insurance provider first:

  • Due to water theft many people are removing valve handles, so if you have removed valve handles does your staff or your local fire service know where the specialty wrench needed to open the water tank valve is kept?
  • Do all hoses have the proper fittings corresponding to the tank fittings?
  • Do you have a pump to assist in moving the water to the fire? And is this pump tested on a regular basis?
  • Is your staff trained to fight fires?
  • Do you have a water truck on property you can use to fight fires? Something home-made but effective as an equivalent?
  • Have you considered a Fire Pump-Tank Skid that can be lifted quickly with a forklift and placed in the bed of a pick-up or ATV to fight fires?

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If interested I can help you with this.

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Most rural fires happen in remote or semi-remote areas far from hydrants, such as vineyards and wineries. The average firetruck carries 500-1000 gallons of water (very little) and in a rural-remote situation relies on Tanker Trucks and Water Shuttling Operations, and most people have no idea what a Rural Water Shuttling Operation is:

A rural water shuttling operation involves three parts:

Fire Engine
Folding Tanks – Drafting / Transfer Hose(s)
Tanker Truck(s)

A fire engine (carrying only a few hundred gallons of water) arrives on the scene. Some fire fighters immediately begin fighting the fire while others begin unfolding a series of folding tanks.

Folding tanks can be 1,500 to 4,000 gallons each. If set up on an uneven surface such as a hillside bowed road or incline the pitch at which they sit will decrease the amount of water they can hold.

A tanker truck (limited to 4000 gallons) comes and dumps its load in the folding tanks and then drives off to refill.

The firefighters get drafting hoses into the folding tank (now full) and begin drafting water from the folding tank into the pump on the main fire engine, and from the pump the water is sprayed via hoses onto the fire.

More involved that you thought, aye? It was for me too when I realized the amount of training and equipment involved in fighting a rural fire.

“Got Big Water” a rural water shuttling training organization has a plethora of videos on YouTube about Rural Water Shuttling
https://www.youtube.com/user/GotBigWater

Let me say just a bit about “Drafting” from a pond, lake, or any body of water that might have foreign matter (weeds-muck-garbage) in it.

The owner of that Massachusetts winery mentioned previously was very upset about water in an adjacent pond that he said was not used to fight that fire. Water taken from any tertiary source such as a lake-rive-natural or man-made pond requires a special “drafting” intake nozzle called a “Float Dock Strainer” for safety.
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A “Float Dock Strainer” allows water to be taken (drafted – like beer) from a pond or river without sucking up weeds and muck that would jam up the main firetruck pumps halting the firefighting altogether.

Firefighters can “draft” from a natural or man-made pond or stream but they need that “Float Dock Strainer” to make sure debris from that water source does not destroy their truck’s pumps.

If you have a pond on property should you invest in a Float Dock Strainer that your local Fire Department can use, or that you can use yourself?

Your local rural fire responder needs all this equipment: Folding Tanks, Float Dock Strainers, 4 inch hoses for going between tanks, Supply Line Holders, and so much more. Ask your local fire department if they have all this at hand when you speak to them.

This is genuinely a lot to think about, and I want to thank Battalion Chief Scott McLean of CAL FIRE for looking over this and contributing quite a bit. To quote Battalion Chief McLean:

“I think working together can help continue to educate the public especially those that own the local wineries and vineyards. In other words the message to the public is “Help Us – Help You”.

Well said indeed.

I don’t intend this document to be perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but I do not see anything else out there specifically addressing the concerns of wineries or any large rural agricultural operation, there so let’s consider this a work in progress.

I would like to offer this up to the grape growing – winery community and the agricultural community in general. Let it be used as a touchstone for everyone. If you have additions of suggestions, I will certainly add to this document and keep it available here online.