My heart goes out to all of the victims of the recent tragic wildfires. We have updated our family emergency plan to make sure that we are ready for a wildfire. As a result, we have compiled some important tips to help you be prepared to safely and successfully evacuate if a wildfire threatens your home.
Why Are Wildfires Increasing in Frequency and Intensity?
Ferocious wildfire seasons grow increasingly more common due to drought, high temperatures, accumulations of fuel, and continued growth of wildland-urban interface areas. Wildfires are influenced by topography (lay of the land), weather (wind, humidity, and temperature), and fuel (vegetation and man-made structures).
Who Is at Risk for Wildfire?
You are at risk if you live in, or near, areas with large amounts of vegetation. Fires move upslope, the steeper the slope the faster it moves. Advanced preparation is critical in reducing the risk of wildfire damage.
A home’s ignition risk is determined by the landscape immediately around it (up to 200 feet) along with the materials the home is constructed out of. Buildings within 100 feet can ignite one another. Forested areas are beautiful places to live but come with a level of risk that can be mitigated to some extent, but not completely.
How Can I Reduce Wildfire Risk to My Home?
If you choose to live in an area at risk for wildfire consider taking some of the following steps to mitigate the risk:
- Work with your neighbors and local fire service to make your neighborhood as wildfire resistant as possible.
- Keep your property cleared of leaves, lawn clippings, brush piles, and dead limbs. Prune low hanging limbs and thin trees and bushes. Do everything you can to reduce the potential fuel for a fire anywhere near your home. Stack firewood away from your home.
- Consider using noncombustible exterior building materials such as brick, stone, cement tile shingles or metal roofing if you build or remodel. Fireproof shutters may protect your windows from radiant heat. The wood exterior can be protected by painting with a fire shield barrier that sinks right into the wood and keeps it from igniting. Plywood decking can be covered with Quikrete cement and painted with fire-resistant paint.
Will Insurance Cover Damage to My Home and Property Due to a Wildfire?
I have heard horror stories from individuals and businesses affected by wildfires that had issues getting their insurance companies to pay for the damage. I contacted several insurance companies to gather the facts and important details that might save you some grief if you are a victim of a wildfire.
Questions and Answers Concerning Wildfire Insurance Coverage
As part of your preparations, carefully investigate exactly what your homeowner insurance policy covers. Will it cover damages caused by a wildfire? Are there requirements you must meet to be covered?
A special thanks to the insurance agents listed below for contributing the information. Remember that this information is for informational purposes only. You need to consult your insurance agent to ensure that you get accurate information for your specific policy.
- Kevin Oakey – Nebo-Leavitt Insurance Agency – (435) 623-1830
- Timothy Shanto – American Family Insurance – www.timshanto.com
Will insurance cover damage to my home and property after a wildfire?
- YES! Almost all fire and home policies will cover loss by fire due to a wildfire.
- In most cases, yes, most home policies will cover wildfire as a covered peril (consult your insurance company for verification).
Is a wildfire considered an “act of God”?
- Yes, in most cases.
- I can’t speak for other carriers but I haven’t seen “acts of God” as a peril. With that said, fire is typically a covered peril but it is recommended you check with your insurance company to verify.
What is typically covered and what is not?
- It mainly depends on the type of policy a person has. One of the big problems they have had in the California area after the large wildfires is the cost to rebuild. So it’s wise to visit with your Agent to review values.
- The damage to the structure, personal property for smoke and/or fire along with additional living expenses are typically covered by most policies.
How do I find out what my homeowner’s insurance policy covers?
- Most homeowners never read their policies. Write down your questions and then review them with your agent.
- Call your insurance company for verification.
Are there any specific issues I should be aware of as a renter, homeowner, or business owner?
- It’s best to contact an agent rather than buying online where the customer may not know the coverages available and are just shopping for the best price.
- None that I can readily think of.
Are there any requirements that I need to meet in order for my home to be covered?
- Make sure the premiums are paid when due and if your insurance is paid by your mortgage company in an escrow account, just check each year to make sure it was paid.
- Most homes need to be insured adequately to avoid coinsurance penalties or other issues. It’s important that your insurance company or the insured call in to review the current cost to rebuild your home on an annual basis to ensure you aren’t underinsured at the time of loss. In addition, once a wildfire breaks out in your community, most insurance companies will put a “moratorium” in place to prevent imminent “buying” of claims from clients calling to add insurance to parked vehicles, toys, adding coverage for detached structures, etc. It’s important to have the proper coverage for your home and all items on your property (including recreational vehicles) prior to a wildfire occurring!
What documentation do I need to enable my insurance company to pay a claim?
- It’s best to take a home inventory so you can show the adjuster the items you had in the home.
- Most insurance carriers will want a list of all items damaged or destroyed. It’s recommended that you record with a cell phone all rooms, drawers, contents, etc. and store on a cloud-based program to be easily accessed from anywhere even if the device that made the recording is destroyed in the loss.
How long will it take to process the claim and receive funds to start the restoration process?
- Most companies have adjusters that will meet with the homeowner promptly and have the ability to start making coverage payments at that time.
- It greatly depends on the company and the amount of damage along with the scale of the fire and how many claims are filed with that insurance carrier.
Are there any insurance companies or policy types that I should be leery of?
- When insuring an asset as large as a home, online shopping for price only may leave gaps in coverage or may include large deductibles that can put the hurt in a homeowner’s pocketbook after a loss.
- Any policy that is an Actual Cash Value evaluation method. I would do research on overall property claims satisfaction surveys (JD Powers and others conduct these annually) to verify you are with a company that will take care of you and handles the claim with ease in your time of need.
Is there anything else that we should know about making sure that we have adequate insurance to cover losses from a wildfire?
- It’s also good to verify if your insurance company will pay for additional living expenses during a “Forced” evacuation. In addition, it would be good to ask if they have your deductible for Additional Living Expenses if there is no damage resulting to home or personal property.
Advanced Preparation for Wildfire
The time to prepare for a wildfire is long before you see smoke. Today is a great day to develop a family emergency wildfire evacuation plan and take the steps necessary so you don’t have to worry when disaster strikes.
Prepare Vital Documents for Emergency Evacuation
We always hope that the evacuation will turn out to be a precautionary measure and that you will return home to find that all is well. However, you need to be prepared to recreate your life in the event that you are not so fortunate.
It is important that you take time today to organize all of your critical documents into one safe place so that you can quickly grab them and go. You can learn more about organizing these documents on our post, How to Organize Critical Documents for Emergency Evacuation.
Create a Video or Photo Inventory Documentation
Include visual documentation of your home and all of its contents in your critical document binder. Take out your phone and create a quick video and photo inventory of all your possessions for insurance purposes.
Store a copy of your inventory in a secure location away from your home, perhaps in a secure cloud storage site, along with copies of all important documents. Include digital copies of all family photos.
Create a Written Family Emergency Plan
If you are at risk of a wildfire, be sure to include a specific wildfire evacuation plan as you build your family emergency plan. You must be prepared to evacuate with less than 30 minutes of notice.
Post your written family emergency plan, contact numbers, and last-minute to-do lists near an exit where everyone knows where to find them. Our lists are posted on the back of our entry closet door where we keep all of our personal survival kits.
Learn more about creating a family emergency plan in our post, Steps to Build a Successful Family Emergency Plan.
Carefully plan exactly where you will go in the event that you must evacuate. Make sure that every member of the family knows the exact location in case you are not together when you need to evacuate.
Destination possibilities may include a friend or relative, hotel out of the area, or a public shelter. I am hesitant to stay in an emergency public shelter unless it is my very last resort. See why in this post, The Facts About Emergency Shelters.
Public shelters can be a great help to victims of wildfires. The problem is that they take a few days to set up and may not be available when you need them. You are also rubbing shoulders with a lot of people that you may prefer to avoid. It’s better to plan to stay with someone you know or in a hotel.
Personal Survival Kits
Make sure that you create a personal survival kit to meet the special needs of each member of your family. They are also known as 72 Hour Kits, Bug Out Bags, Emergency Kits, and so on. Learn more about creating these kits on our post, How to Create the Perfect Emergency Survival Kit.
Last-Minute Items Lists
If you are required to evacuate, you can’t help but feel a little panicked. The adrenalin rush may just keep your brain from thinking clearly. Taking time in advance to prepare a list of “last-minute items to grab” and keep it posted near your survival kits.
This list should include items such as car keys, identification, purse, wallet, cell phone charger, medication, glasses, contacts, emergency documentation binder, extra cell phone battery or car chargers, external hard drive, and other items specific to the needs of your family members.
It may also include a list of people who should be contacted or updated on your status.
Pre-Evacuation Notice, Evacuation Warning, or Evacuation Notice
It is important to understand the terminology as evacuation notices are given. Let’s review the common terms.
A pre-evacuation notice is given when there is a fire is burning nearby and there is evacuation potential. You may or may not end up needing to evacuate. Use this time to take steps to prepare your home and gather important possessions together.
We have a friend who was put on pre-evacuation notice. She filled her motor home with her most valuable possessions and parked it in a location that was out of danger until the event was resolved. You could do the same thing with extra vehicles and/or trailers to keep both the vehicle and valuables out of harm’s way.
An evacuation warning indicates that you should evacuate as soon as you are able. You can take a little bit of time to gather your things, secure your home, and leave to your prearranged evacuation location.
An evacuation order requires that you leave immediately. You do not have time to gather your valuables. You must leave in order to save your life. This is not the time to waste precious moments gathering stuff.
Preparing Your Family Emergency Plan for Wildfire Evacuation
We have thought about this long and hard as we talk to friends who have been affected by wildfires and researched best practices. This post is our family emergency plan for a wildfire evacuation. Perhaps our plan may help you develop yours.
Check on Neighbors
People are our first priority. The first order of business is to check on our neighbors to ensure that they are aware of the situation. Next, reach out to those that are elderly, disabled, or otherwise may be in need of assistance to safely evacuate.
Take Care of Pets and Animals
Don’t forget about your furry friends. Locate pets and place in carriers to prepare for evacuation. We can’t afford to waste time chasing them down at the last minute and we don’t want to risk having to leave them. Make sure they are wearing identification tags in the event you are separated.
Check your pet’s survival kit and make sure that it includes food, water, medications, leash, clean up supplies, and anything that you may need to care for your pet. Place the pet carrier (with the pet inside) near an exit door along with the pet survival kit.
It is best to relocate large animals early to a safe location before an evacuation is ordered.
Dress to Evacuate
It is ideal for you to be able to safely make it out of the path of danger when you are evacuated. Sometimes that evacuation can get a little intense and so it makes sense to dress to protect yourself just in case it doesn’t go as smoothly as you may have hoped.
It is best to change into protective clothing including; long pants, long sleeves, leather gloves, head protection, face mask or bandana, and goggles. Take a flashlight or headlamp because smoke can make it very difficult to see.
Prepare for Evacuation Order to Be Issued
Place water bottles, personal survival kits, emergency document binder, and valuables in your vehicle. Park it in the driveway, ready to leave. Everything should be completely ready so that all you need to do is get your family, pets, and go.
Last Minute “To-Do” List to Prepare Your Home
Another important list includes last-minute “to-do items” to secure your home. This list may include but is not limited to:
- Leave a note with your contact information, along with an out-of-area contact taped to the refrigerator, inside the front door, or inside of the front window.
- Shut off HVAC, unplug unnecessary appliances, and turn off ceiling fans.
- Move all combustibles (furniture, curtains, shades, etc.) into the center of the room, away from windows.
- Place all outside combustibles (lawn furniture, doormats, garbage cans, toys, etc.) inside of the garage or at least 30 feet away from the home.
- Close all windows and doors (interior and exterior) but do not lock them. The firemen may need to gain quick access to your home.
- Leave interior and exterior lights on to help firemen see through the smoke.
- Turn off natural gas at the meter or shut off propane tanks.
- Leave garden hoses connected to outdoor spigots to help the firemen.
Keep Your Gas Tank Half Full at All Times
Keeping your gas tank at least half full at all times is just a smart way to go through life. Evacuation will inevitably result in crowded roads and blocked routes. Having enough fuel in your tank will enable you to get out of harm’s way before needing to refuel.
Our friend told us about a man who had gone to work in the morning with an almost empty tank. The evacuation warning was issued and he encountered roadblocks and detours as he raced home to get his family. He ended up running out of gas which left his family in a dangerous situation. It just pays to be prepared.
Preparing Now Creates Peace of Mind and Facilitates Positive Outcomes
Quite frankly, preparing to evacuate in an emergency can be a lot of work. You may take all the necessary steps and not ever have anything happen. I would just enjoy the peace that being prepared brings and enjoy the blessing that you were not forced to evacuate and lose your home.
Preparing can ensure that you are successful regardless of what the fire may do to your home. You can get your family away from danger to a safe, comfortable location. You can begin to rebuild your life with minimal hassle because you have important documents and your most valuable possessions. Everything else can be replaced.
Are you at risk of wildfire? Today is a great day to begin to design your family emergency wildfire evacuation plan.
Thanks for being part of the solution!Jonathan and Kylene Jones