Whether accidental or arson, electrical or fuel-induced, fires create multiple issues for greenhouses – but these problems can be avoided, says Brent Bates, Director of Safety Services and Loss Control at Hortica®, a brand of the Sentry Insurance Group.
Electrical issues are the No. 1 cause of fires in the greenhouse industry, Bates says. “Second to that would be faulty equipment or misuse of different equipment and devices that create a fire hazard,” he says.
These are reasons why greenhouse managers should bring in professional electricians for annual or semiannual checks of the facilities, and to check on any changes that are made to the electrical system, Bates says. They also need to make sure flammable materials such as gasoline and other petroleum products are in properly marked containers where they are not easily accessible.
Smoking on the property and improper discarding of cigarette butts has also resulted in major issues at various properties, Bates says. “We’ve seen multimillion-dollar fires caused by somebody discarding a cigarette butt in the wrong area and creating a fire,” he says.
Exposing plastic pots to high heat can cause large amounts of damage, because those pots are made of flammable petroleum products, Bates says. Examples of heat sources that could present a hazard to plastic pots, include smoking, running high-powered motors and heat lamps, as well as conducting hot work and welding.
Although it is less common than accidental fires, arson does occur at greenhouses. Arson encompasses multiple types, including when business owners try to create a loss to pass off to their insurance carrier, or when third parties vandalize a property. Out of these two types of arson, Hortica has seen more of the third-party acts of vandalism.
Greenhouse managers can work to prevent fires through multiple means, Bates says. These include adding fire experts to safety committees, using materials that are less hazardous than others (e.g., polycarbonate versus acrylic), fire retardant shade cloth and keeping fire extinguishers up to date. Smoke alarm systems are critical to reacting to a fire event to eliminate or reduce a potential catastrophic loss should a fire occur.
Managers can also benefit from following common sense and regulations, and finding educational tools online, Bates says.