How Does a Fire Cross The Road?


You may recall instances when the defense in a subrogation action tried to mitigate its client’s liability for a loss arguing (usually unsuccessfully) that your insured failed to have a fire break between the properties, contributing to the loss.  So then on a loss when the fire occurred on the other side of the road, wasn’t the road a sufficient fire break?  Insert your own punch lines for the “Why Did The Chicken Cross the Road?” jokes; we leave it to the experts to answer for our subrogation fire losses “How Does a Fire Cross the Road?”

A fire break is a natural or constructed barrier used to slow or stop fires that may occur, or to provide a control line from which firefighters can work to control the fire, as defined by the National Park Service.  A fire break is also described as a gap in vegetation or other combustible material that acts as a barrier to slow or stop the progress of a bushfire. This break may occur naturally, such as a river, lake or canyon, or be man-made, and many of these also serve as roads or highways. Proper defensible space around a property created by a fire break also provides firefighters a safe area to work in when combatting a fire.

So the road separating the origin of the fire from your insured’s property should have been a “fire break.”  Unfortunately, despite a road or other fire break, it is still possible for a fire to spread across a seemingly impenetrable divide.  Researchers at the University of Arizona explain that the more fuel a fire has, the more energy it creates.  A fire will have high energy with the more combustibles in its wake and time it has had to burn.  A high energy fire can blow embers onto unburned fuels beyond the main fire.  It is called “spotting,” when wind, either arising from weather or generated by the fire itself, allows the fire to cross roads, rivers, streams, and even lakes. 

Even a wide interstate or highway may not be a sufficient fire break to slow or stop a high energy fire with some wind behind it.  Subrogation counsel at Cozen O’Connor can help evaluate your fire losses, looking at the origin and cause of the fire, spread theory, duties of adjacent property owners, etc.

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