By Terry Arko
No words can adequately express the condolences felt for those who have suffered loss during the wildfires experienced in western Canada and the United States. In the case of active fires, the utmost concern should always be for the immediate safety of persons and property. The devastation of wildfires over recent years has been particularly extreme. Even as the author wrote this article, wind-driven fires were ravaging southern California. The following is some advice for pool professionals in dealing with the restoration and repair of pools after these unfortunate, common, occurrences.
During the fire
During and after wildfires, water pressure and water quality at the source will be affected. For residents trying to protect their property, using a hose may not always be effective. In some cases where water pressure becomes an issue during the fire, some fire departments may incorporate the use of pumps in pools to use the water contained in the vessel to protect homes. Homeowners in regions where wildfires occur can also buy pumps that can be used to soak down their property. These pumps typically operate at a flowrate of 568 litres per minute (lpm) 150 gallons per minute (gpm) and can disperse the contents of a 75,708-L (20,000-gal) pool within two hours.
Pool technicians should be aware of this possibility ahead of time to ensure the hydrostatic relief valve is in place on these pools to prevent the vessel from popping out of the ground during these emergencies. If there is a high groundwater table, or the pool is built over an underground spring, the chances of this occurring are even greater.
All types of debris are possible during wildfires as result of high winds. Smoke, ash, tree branches, leaves, and fire suppressant chemicals will more than likely end up in the pool. There is also a possibility for live animals to seek shelter in the water or pool area. Pool technicians and/or homeowners should not attempt to deal with wild animals on their own. In these cases, local animal control or wildlife management officials should be contacted immediately.
Extreme caution should be used in and around areas where wildfires are still active. Protective gear such as a respiratory mask, goggles, and gloves may be required in these situations. It is prudent for pool technicians to carry some emergency supplies on their trucks at all times. This could include bottled water, safety flares, a protective non-flammable blanket, a battery-powered radio, and flashlight. Further, it is vital to comply with emergency management in the region and avoid areas where heavy smoke is present or where first responders are set-up.
Service companies should never attempt to cross an emergency barrier or evacuation zone to deal with pools. Fire can change course and move rapidly, especially in areas where high winds are present. If a service route is near where fires are present, it is a good idea for service technicians to have several escape routes planned ahead of time.
Finally, smoke and ash can be a problem for large distances beyond the fire. Last summer, for example, smoke from the fires in British Columbia spread all the way to Seattle, Wash. The airborne ash and debris affected many pools in the region and, as a result, some developed filter and water quality (i.e. algae) problems.
After the fire
Great care should be taken when handling cleanup responsibilities after a wildfire. For instance, pool service technicians should keep an eye out for live downed power lines. In many cases, the fire department will shut off the power to fire-damaged homes because wires may have melted or been fused from the heat. In this regard, a service technician should check with the fire department first before attempting to turn the pump and filter breakers back on. Only a licensed electrical contractor should determine the integrity of the breakers for pumps.