Wildfires: Tips to Protect Your Home

From January through late August 2018, more than 42,000 wildfires burned over 6.2 million acres of land across the nation. In Northern California, the Mendocino Complex fire exploded into the largest wildfire in state history with more than 415,000 acres burned.1–2

Unfortunately, in California and many areas of the country, wildfire risk can become even worse in the fall. The nine costliest wildfires in U.S. history all ignited in September, October, or November.3

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Are You in a Hot Spot?

Sparks can fly almost anywhere, and every state in the United States had wildfire activity in 2017.4 But the dry, hot West generally faces the highest risk. In late August 2018, active wildfires were burning in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.5 Other states that have had a large number of wildfires over the past two years include Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, and Mississippi.6

Sadly, about 90% of wildfires in the United States are caused by people through activities such as unattended campfires, burning debris, negligently discarded cigarettes, and arson.7 Although many fires could be prevented, some are tragic accidents. The deadly Carr fire, which ignited near Redding, California, on July 23, 2018, is believed to have been caused by sparks from a flat tire on a camper trailer.8 Natural causes of wildfires include lightning and lava flows.9

Maintain a Survivable Space

Even though the causes of wildfires may be outside your control, there are important steps you can take to help protect yourself, your loved ones, and your home.

  • Create a defensible perimeter around the outside of your home, free of trees and shrubs that could catch fire easily. Clean roof surfaces and gutters of pine needles, leaves, and branches to avoid accumulation of flammable materials.
  • Keep all combustibles such as firewood, picnic tables, and boats away from structures.
  • Attach a nonflammable screen over the flue opening of every chimney or stovepipe. Mesh openings of the screen should not exceed ½ inch.
  • Consider installing fire-resistant roofing and/or siding material. Wood siding, cedar shakes, exterior wood paneling, and other highly combustible materials should be treated with fire-retardant chemicals.
  • Dispose of stove or fireplace ashes and charcoal briquettes only after soaking them in a metal pail of water.
  • Store gasoline in an approved safety can away from occupied buildings.
  • Locate propane tanks far enough away from buildings for valves to be shut off in case of fire. Keep the area clear of flammable vegetation.
  • Keep a garden hose connected to a faucet.

Create a Wildfire Action Plan

If you live in a fire-prone area, it’s wise to prepare in advance, even if you don’t expect a fire this year. A wildfire action plan should include the following:

  • Emergency supply kit
  • List of possessions to take with you
  • List of steps to take before you leave your home
  • Designated meeting place
  • Family communication plan

For more information on creating a wildfire action plan, assembling an emergency supply kit, and preparing for a potential evacuation, see the CalFire website at readyforwildfire.org/Wildfire-Action-Plan/.

Review Your Insurance

Standard homeowners and renters policies generally cover damage caused by fire and smoke, or from firefighters putting out a fire, up to policy limits. Your insurance may also pay extra living expenses while your home is being repaired or rebuilt.

Your home and belongings should be insured for their full replacement cost. If you are underinsured, it could prove difficult or impossible to rebuild a structure or replace your lost belongings at current market prices.

A thorough home inventory — complete with photos, video, receipts, model numbers, and appraisals — could make it easier to settle with your insurer in the aftermath of a devastating fire. Copies of your inventory and other policy documents should be kept online, in a fireproof safe, or in a location away from your home.

Regardless of where you live, fire can be a threat to you, your family, and your home. Taking time to prepare now could help you and your loved ones avoid enduring, costly, and devastating losses.