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  • Writer's pictureTim Spears

Preventing Construction Brush Fires: Lessons from Recent Scottsdale Incidents



As the wildfire season intensifies, construction crews in the Phoenix area are being urged to exercise extreme caution to prevent brush fires. Recent incidents have highlighted the significant risk posed by construction activities, especially those involving hot work such as welding and cutting. A recent brush fire near McDowell Mountain Regional Park underscores the urgent need for vigilance and proactive measures in these high-risk environments.




Understanding the Risks


The wildland-urban interface (WUI) presents unique challenges for fire safety. These areas, where development meets undeveloped wildland, are particularly susceptible to fires started by construction activities. A small spark from a welding torch or cutting tool can easily ignite dry vegetation, leading to rapid fire spread. Scottsdale Fire Chief Tom Shannon emphasized that more than 100 brush fires annually in the Valley are attributed to construction activities, particularly during the hot and dry wildfire season (Stone, 2024)​​.


Key Measures to Prevent Brush Fires


  1. Implement a Hot Work Permit System:

  • Ensure all hot work activities are authorized through a formal permit system. This includes detailing who is performing the work, the nature of the work, and the safety precautions in place. A dedicated permit issuer should oversee this process to ensure compliance and safety​ (CSB.gov)​​ (Safety Playbook)​.

  1. Conduct Thorough Hazard Assessments:

  • Before starting any hot work, conduct a hazard assessment to identify potential fire risks. This includes evaluating the work area for combustible materials and ensuring they are removed or adequately protected. Regular atmospheric monitoring should also be conducted to detect flammable gases and vapors​ (CSB.gov)​​ (Construction Fire Safety)​.

  1. Maintain Good Housekeeping:

  • Keep the work area clean and free of combustible debris. Regularly remove trash, form lumber, and other flammable materials from the site. Properly store hazardous wastes in covered containers to prevent accidental ignition​ (Construction Fire Safety)​​​.

  1. Prepare the Site:

  • Ensure the hot work area is clear of combustible materials. Use fire-resistant blankets or shields to cover any materials that cannot be moved. ​ (Construction Fire Safety)​​ (Safety Playbook)​.

  1. Assign a Fire Watch:

  • Designate a fire watch to monitor the work area during and after hot work operations. The fire watch should have fire extinguishing equipment readily available and be trained to respond to any signs of fire. Continue monitoring the area for at least 30 minutes after completing the hot work​ (CSB.gov)​​ (Construction Fire Safety)​.


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)


Q: What is a hot work permit, and why is it necessary?


A hot work permit is a safety document that authorizes specific hot work operations, such as welding or cutting, after ensuring all safety precautions are in place. It helps prevent fires by ensuring that all hazards are identified and controlled before work begins​ (CSB.gov)​​ (Safety Playbook)​.


Q: What steps should be taken if a fire starts during hot work operations?


Immediately notify the fire department by calling 911. If safe to do so, attempt to extinguish the fire using available equipment. Ensure that all personnel are aware of emergency procedures and know how to use fire extinguishers​​​ (Construction Fire Safety)​.


Q: How can construction crews minimize the risk of starting a brush fire?


Crews should follow best practices for hot work safety, including obtaining permits, maintaining clean work areas, using fire-resistant materials, and conducting regular safety training. Additionally, limiting hot work to designated safe areas can significantly reduce fire risks​ (CSB.gov)​​ (Construction Fire Safety)​.


Have you implemented a hot work permit system in your construction projects? What challenges have you faced in maintaining fire safety on your sites? Share your experiences and insights in the comments below.


Conclusion


Ensuring construction fire safety in the wildland-urban interface is critical to preventing devastating brush fires. By implementing robust safety measures, conducting thorough hazard assessments, and maintaining vigilant monitoring, construction crews can significantly reduce the risk of fire. These practices not only protect the environment but also enhance community safety and resilience.


References


  • CSB. (2024). Safe Hot Work Practices. Retrieved from Chemical Safety Board

  • Construction Fire Safety. (2024). Conducting Hot Work Safely. Retrieved from Construction Fire Safety

  • Stone, K (2024). KTAR News. Construction brush fires a problem in Valley desert areas. Retrieved from KTAR News

  • Thomas, L. (2021, September 1). A beginner's guide to hot work. Safety Playbook. Retrieved from https://www.safetyplaybook.com/blog/hot-work/#permits


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