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Home Insurance Tips: Wildfire Home Defense & Preparedness

What You can do to Safeguard your Home and Family from Wildfires

In California, we have been experiencing a state-wide drought for a number of years. Severe drought conditions have led to the development of large areas of dying trees and dry brush near residential areas, increasing wildfire risks for many homeowners.

A wildfire can threaten your home and family, even when it is miles away. Floating embers can ignite roofs and eaves, decks and wood fences, patio furniture, dry plants, grass and other debris around a home, which can lead to disastrous consequences for unprepared homeowners.

You might wonder if there is anything you can do to safeguard your home and family from the dangers of wildfire. Thankfully, there are steps you can take to help protect and preserve your family, and property:

Creating defensible space around your home provides a buffer to help defend your home from the threat of wildfires. Reducing available fuel around your home can help slow the progression of wildfire, providing a perimeter which can be more readily defended.

  • In California, a minimum of 100 feet of defensible space is required. Check with your local fire department for defensible space zones and abatement ordinances specific to your region.
  • Remove all dead or dying trees, shrubs, weeds and grass.
  • Keep tree branches at least 10 feet apart. For taller trees, remove branches until they are at least 6 feet above the ground and trim branches away from your roof and chimney.
  • Keep shrubs pruned to no more than 18 inches high. Maintain space between shrubs.
  • Keep grassy areas and lawns mowed to a maximum of 4” and dispose of clippings immediately.
  • Properly maintain sprinkler and irrigation systems.
  • Keep your eaves and gutters free of leaves and debris.
  • Clear the ground of leaves, twigs, dead plants, cones and pine needles and other plant debris.

The use of ignition-resistant building materials can help defend your home from wildfire. Contact your local fire department for specific requirements in your area.

  • Roofing materials should be non-combustible. Wood shake or wood tile roofing should be replaced.
  • Fire resistant materials such as stucco, brick or stone should be used on exterior walls.
  • Vent and eave openings should be screened using ¼” mesh.
  • Consider fire-resistant materials for arbors, decks, patio covers, and other exterior structures.
  • Consider removing wood siding and installing double-paned or tempered glass windows.
  • Consider enclosing roof eaves with fire-resistant materials.
  • Consider re-landscaping with native, fire-resistant plants.
  • Make sure your address is easily visible from the street. Numbers should be 3” tall on a contrasting background.

Preparing in advance for a wildfire emergency can help you stay safe in the event of a wildfire.

  • Review materials by Cal Fire: http://www.readyforwildfire.org/Wildfire-Action-Plan/.
  • Store a first aid kit, portable radio, flashlights, fresh batteries and basic tools in a back-pack and 3day supply of water and non-perishable food in a covered, wheeled container. Include spare clothing, blankets, glasses and contacts, cash, medications, spare keys, cell phone charger, and pet supplies. Place in an accessible location you can reach quickly in case of emergency.
  • Include a current list of personal property and important documents such as vital records in your kit, along with your insurance policy and phone number of your insurance agent.
  • Have a supply of basic tools ready including a shovel, hoe, rake, long hose and buckets for use in a wildfire emergency.
  • Become familiar with your community disaster preparedness plan.
  • Create a family plan and make sure family members are aware of all escape routes from your home, and neighborhood.
  • Establish a meeting place for family to reunite after an emergency.
  • Establish emergency contacts outside of your region. Instruct family members to check in with the designated contact(s) after an emergency.
  • Should a fire approach, listen for emergency broadcasts and comply with all instructions and evacuation orders from fire, police and other safety officials. Do not delay leaving your home, or attempt to stay in your home, if you have been ordered to evacuate by fire or safety officials.

Insurance can serve as a safety net to spare you and your family financial disaster should you lose your home to wildfire.

  • Review your policy annually and contact your insurance agent to discuss coverage, limits and endorsements which can provide you with funds to repair or rebuild your home in the event you experience a loss due to wildfire.
  • For personal belongings, prepare and keep an up-to-date inventory list. There are apps and online tools available to help organize and maintain an inventory, such as http://www.uphelp.org/pubs/how-create-home-inventory.
  • Take videos of personal property in your home and garage using a smartphone.
  • Keep receipts for expensive items in a fire-proof safe, or safety deposit box.
  • Back-up important digital files and documents on a portable “flash drive” and store the drive with your other important documents in your emergency kit.
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