Wildfire Safety Tips To Keep You and Your Property Safe
It’s no secret that wildfires are becoming a more prevalent issue; the climate is heating up, and right now, wildfires are raging across the country.
While you may feel helpless watching the images in the nightly news, you’re also probably wondering what you can do to help protect your own home. Fortunately there are some proactive steps any homeowner can take to feel as prepared as possible against the threat of wildfire.
When is wildfire season?
Wildfires can ultimately happen at any time. While “wildfire season” used to be more contained to spring and summer, earlier snow melts and persistent drought conditions are extending the time that people should be prepared for wildfires. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) says that the Forest Service plans for fires year-round – and you should, too.
Who is affected by wildfires?
According to the National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA), nearly 45 million homes are near wildlands and more than 72,000 communities are currently at risk. Performing consistent wildfire maintenance can help protect both your own property and your entire community.
How can I prepare my house for a potential wildfire?
Because embers and small flames are the main reason homes ignite in wildfires, you should remove the conditions that contribute to these flames. Here’s how.
1. Assess your “defensible space.”
Adequate “defensible space,” the buffer that separates your home from the landscaping or woodland areas surrounding it, helps slow or stop a fire’s spread. It is typically divided into two zones: Zone 1 extends about 30 feet out from your structures or decks. Zone 2 extends 100 feet out and includes the rest of your landscaping.
2. Plan your landscaping carefully.
The right kinds of plants can help with your defensible space. First include a “fuel-free zone” of three to five feet around the base of your home and additional structures with ground cover options, like gravel or rocks. This barrier will keep fire-prone material away from the foundation of your house.
If you are putting in new plants, consider choosing fire-retardant species, such as aloe and ice plant, and hardwoods, like maple and poplar, which are less likely to ignite than evergreens.
3. Manage your landscaping.
First, take care of ladder fuel, which are smaller plants that grow below trees. If grasses, leaves, and branches reach from the ground up to your trees, it provides a “ladder” for fire to climb up a tree and spread. To remove ladder fuel, thin your trees and prune the lower branches, and keep the ground covering clear as described below. Check with your local community for any ladder fuel requirements specific to your neighborhood.
Keep your grass low and well-watered, and keep your grounds free from debris that could ignite by regularly clearing leaves, grass clippings, branches, and other materials from lawns, porches, decks, eaves, and gardens. As fall approaches, never leave piles of raked leaves in your yard.
4. Maintain your roof.
Make sure that your roof and gutters are free of leaves, pine needles, and other combustible debris. You should also screen your roof and attic vents so that embers can’t enter.
If you are planning to reroof your home, asphalt fiberglass composition shingles and concrete or clay tiles are preferable roofing choices to wood shake.
5. Don’t overlook your neighbors’ homes or common areas.
One of the greatest dangers of a wildfire is how it quickly spreads from house to house. That’s why no matter how cautious you are about your yard, it’s vital that your neighbors also make fire-safe choices. If you spot something on your neighbor’s property that concerns you, such as a pile of leaves or dry, dead grass, be sure to mention it to your homeowners’ association (HOA) if you don’t feel comfortable talking to them yourself. You can also request that common areas, like green belts, are thinned and pruned to stay healthy, tackling the task with neighbors if needed.
6. Be prepared to go.
When an evacuation notice comes, be prepared to leave. Practice evacuation procedures and routes and have a communication plan developed to get your family to safety.
Am I adequately insured against a catastrophic wildfire?
You may be wondering what a standard home insurance policy covers in relation to a wildfire. Now is the time to confirm the protection you have in place, making sure you understand the limits and the deductible on your specific policy.
Typically, a standard homeowners insurance policy will cover:
- Your home’s structure: In the event of a wildfire, your insurance carrier will cover the cost of rebuilding or repairing your home and outbuildings, such as a shed or garage. Depending on the extent of the damage, the carrier may remediate smoke damage by restoring rather than replacing your walls, floors, and other infrastructure.
- Your personal belongings: The policy will cover your belongings for loss or damage. However, note that one area homeowners often don’t understand is “replacement costs” compared with “fair market value.” If you have a policy that covers fair market value and the items in your home have depreciated, you may not receive the full amount it may cost to re-buy them.
- Your temporary living arrangements: If your home is uninhabitable, your policy will reimburse you for additional living expenses, such as hotel or rental stays and restaurant bills.
Note that if your vehicle is damaged by wildlife, it will be covered under your auto insurance, not your homeowners policy.
What if my home has been affected?
As wildfires blaze across the country, we know that many Matic customers have been affected. Our first concern is your safety; then we are here for you to help you recoup your losses and begin to replace and rebuild. Here is how to start the process:
1. Assess the damage to your property.
You might think that you should file a claim immediately, regardless of the level of damage, but you don’t want to have a claim on your record if it’s not necessary. This is because your claims history can negatively impact your insurance rates in the future. The best way to decide if you should file a claim? Get an estimate of the cost of repairs and compare it to your deductible to ensure the claim is worth filing, rather than paying out of pocket.
2. If the damage is significant enough, contact your carrier to file a claim.
3. Be sure to take photos and save receipts, in case your adjuster has additional questions later.
The most important move to minimize wildfire risk is to ensure your home and belongings are adequately protected against an unforeseen tragedy. At Matic, we make sure you have the right coverage for the best rate, so get your own personalized quote today.