Are You Prepared For Wildfire Season?
Wildfires are a natural and essential part of a healthy forest’s life cycle, helping to recycle nutrients and allow vegetation to spread and diversify. However, wildfires also pose a threat to both the lives and property of anyone who lives in or near a forested area. On average, more than 100,000 wildfires clear 4 to 5 million acres (1.6 to 2 million hectares) of land in the U.S. every year. Being prepared for wildfire season could save your home and your family.
If you weren’t personally effected by a California wildfire last year, odds are you know someone that was. The 2018 wildfire season was the deadliest and most destructive wildfire season on record in California, with a total of 8,527 fires burning an area of 1,893,913 acres, the largest amount of burned acreage recorded in a fire season, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) and the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC).
What Causes Wildfires?
Nearly 85 percent of wildfires in the U.S. are caused by humans. Often, these fires are the result of unattended campfires, the burning of debris, equipment use and malfunctions, negligently discarded cigarettes and intentional acts of arson. The remaining wildfires are typically caused by lightning or other weather events.
Whatever the cause, these wildfires can spread to communities and force people to evacuate their homes. While firefighters will do all they can to prevent the spread of a wildfire, their limited manpower and resources may prevent them from defending your home.
Although you may not be able to reduce the risk of wildfires occurring in your area, there are measures you can take to be prepared for a wildfire and reduce the risk of your property being lost to a wildfire. This guide includes methods for reducing the chances that a wildfire will damage or destroy your home.
Getting Prepared For Wildfire Season
Wildfires are unpredictable, and preparation is key. While specific, preventive action is the primary way to protect your home from the elements, there are some additional, up-front steps to consider:
- Evaluate your home and vulnerabilities—Every property is different and has its own set of unique risks. As such, it’s critical for homeowners to have a thorough inspection done to better understand the risks specific to their property. Inspections, when completed by a certified professional, can provide valuable insight into your property’s ability to withstand a wildfire.
- Work with a qualified insurance broker—While wildfires pose a real threat to your property, many of the risks can be addressed through the proper insurance. To get a better understanding of your options, it’s important to meet with a qualified insurance broker. They can provide a review of your unique exposures and the policies available to you.
- Reach out to your local government—In many cases, your local government can prove invaluable when it comes to protecting your home from the elements. Government websites, public works organizations, utility companies and building departments can all provide expertise and tips on protecting your home.
When completing the above steps, it’s critical to take any home protection advice you receive seriously, whether it be securing additional property insurance or completing an inspection to help you improve your home’s defenses. Only then can you begin taking steps toward protecting your home from specific wildfire risks.
Wildfire risks can vary depending on the location and makeup of your property. While you cannot relocate your home, there are steps you can take to protect your home and be prepared for wildfire.
Be Prepared For Wildfire: Clear the Zones Around Your Home
Wildfires rely on heat and embers moving between fuel sources in order to spread. Accordingly, one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of a wildfire to your home is to provide less fuel for the fire to spread. You can achieve this by creating cleared zones around your home. This entails moving or removing vegetation and other sources of fuel from close proximity to each other in a way that makes it difficult for a fire to reach your home.
First Cleared Zone: 30 Feet Surrounding Your Home
The area immediately surrounding your home, or about 30 feet in any direction from your home, is the most important zone to clear from anything that a wildfire could use as fuel. Flammable species of plants, such as pine, spruce and juniper trees, should not be present in this zone at all. If you are unsure about the flammability of various plants, contact your local fire department for more information.
In addition to vegetation, it’s important to keep this area clear of other objects that might easily catch fire. Regularly clear your yard and gutters of sticks, leaves and other debris that might collect there, move any piles of firewood away from your house, keep grass cut short and avoid using bark mulch or pine needles for decoration. Debris can also collect beneath stairs, in pots or barrels and underneath decks. While these may seem like small hard-to-reach places, it only takes a single spark to start a dangerous fire.
Additionally, there are ways that you can prepare your home to withstand a fire, such as using fire-resistant materials and protecting compromised areas from sparks and embers. For example, windows should be tempered and double-paned, doors should be fire-rated with a good seal and solid shutters, and metal fire screens can provide additional protection for windows and doors. Wooden fences or boardwalks should have a metal gate to slow the advance of a fire. Vents can be screened with wire mesh, and eaves can be fitted with soffits and fascia to reduce the chances of embers and heat reaching wooden rafters. As for the largest surfaces of your house, the roof and siding, below are some fire-resistant materials to consider:
- Composite rubber tiles
- Fiber cement
Second Cleared Zone: 30 – 100 Feet Surrounding Your Home
Slowing or stopping the spread of fire in the area between 30 and 100 feet of your home can greatly reduce the chances of a fire spreading closer to it. In this zone, fire can spread easily between trees. Accordingly, it’s important to prune trees and clean up fallen branches, leaves and needles. Space trees in this zone at least 10 feet apart, measured by the outermost branches of each tree, and prune all tree branches that are within 6 feet of the ground. This helps prevent fire from spreading from tree-to-tree, as well as ground fire from moving into the treetops. To avoid damaging a tree, never prune more than a third of the canopy, and leave the main trunk and bark of the tree intact when pruning branches.
Third Cleared Zone: 100 – 300 Feet Surrounding Your Home
For any area between 100 and 300 feet around your home, the goal is to create an environment where fires will be less intense and easily extinguished. To do this, continue to thin and prune trees as in the second zone, creating firebreaks that make it difficult for fires to jump between trees and other vegetation. If your house is on a hill, consider extending this zone further since fire moves quickly uphill. If you do not own the property within 300 feet of your home, talk to your neighbor about agreeing to follow these methods to keep each other’s houses safe from a wildfire.
Avoid Becoming the Source of a Wildfire
Large wildfires can be started by a single small accident, and all the preparation to the area around your home will be for naught if your property is the source of a wildfire. Make sure your chimney is up to current building code requirements and includes spark arrestors. Keep burn barrels and fire pits away from buildings and at least 10 feet away from woodpiles and other materials that may catch fire. Burn barrels should also be properly ventilated, covered with a screen and never unattended. Clear vegetation from possible sources of fuel, such as propane tanks and power lines. Keep fire extinguishers, garden hoses, sprinklers, shovels, rakes, axes and other tools on hand that could be used to put out or cut off a small fire before it grows into a wildfire. In the event of a fire at your property, do not hesitate to contact local fire officials.
Wildfire-related risks can affect your home unexpectedly, often leading to major property damage. While you can’t always predict the movement and spread of a wildfire, the proper insurance can go a long way toward protecting your finances. To learn more about the specific policies available to you, it’s important to work with a qualified insurance broker.
Contact GDI Insurance Agency, Inc. today to learn more 209-634-2929. Download our checklist to make sure you are prepared for a wild fire.
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