Burning Land: Protect Your Home from Wildfires

During the first nine months of 2022, more than 53,000 wildfires torched nearly 6.9 million acres across the United States, the most wildfires year-to-date in over a decade. As of September 28, there were 94 active large fires burning in seven states, including Idaho, Montana, Washington, Oklahoma, Oregon, California, and Wyoming.1

Unfortunately, in many areas, September is still early in the fire season. This is especially true in California, which led the nation in 2021 in number of fires and acres burned. Six of the 10 most destructive California wildfires ignited in October or November.2

Multiple studies indicate that climate change has increased the length of the fire season as well as the frequency of fires and the extent of burned land. Warmer temperatures reduce the snowpack in the mountains and create earlier snowmelt in the spring, leading to drier vegetation more susceptible to fire. Other factors also influence the wildfire threat in any given area, including land use and management, large-scale insect infestations, and fuel availability.3

Know Your Risk

Although the hot, dry West generally faces the highest risk, there were wildfires in almost every state in 2021.4 Be sure you understand the fire risk to your own home, and to areas you visit or travel through.

About 90% of wildfires in the United States are related to human activities, including causes such as unattended campfires, burning debris, downed power lines, discarded cigarettes, and arson. The other 10% of fires are started by lightning or lava.5

Maintain a Survivable Space

Here are some important steps you can take to help protect yourself, your loved ones, and your home from wildfires.

  • Create a defensible perimeter around the outside of your home. This should include a five-foot diameter space of non-combustible materials such as gravel, brick, or concrete adjacent to your house and an additional 25-foot diameter space where you have removed shrubs under trees, thinned trees, pruned branches overhanging the roof, and cleared dead vegetation. If you have sheds, trailers, or other structures in this area, create a five-foot defensible space around those.
  • 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 non-flammable screen over the flue opening of every chimney or stovepipe. Mesh openings of the screen should not exceed ½ inch. Cover vents with -inch mesh.
  • 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 container 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:

  • An emergency supply kit
  • A list of possessions to take with you
  • A list of steps to take before you leave your home
  • A designated meeting place
  • A family communication plan

For more information on creating a wildfire action plan, assembling an emergency supply kit, and what to do in the event of an evacuation, see the CalFire website at www.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 prevent you and your loved ones from enduring costly and devastating losses.