Wildfires continue to threaten homes in a number of western states each late summer and into fall and as they grow in number and intensity, more and more homes are in the path of potential destruction.
With the wildfire danger spreading, insurers have gotten stricter in their underwriting for homeowner's insurance, requiring homeowners to take additional steps to secure their homes if they want their policies renewed. Additionally, some insurers have limited the amount of homes they will insure in any given area that is prone to wildfires, meaning more and more homeowners have been receiving non-renewal notices.
Insurance companies and firefighters are strongly recommending that homeowners in high-risk areas maintain a "defensible space" around their home. This space, which can stretch up to 100 feet from the home, if maintained properly, can serve as a protective zone around your home, reducing the chances that the structure burns during a wildfire.
If your home is in an at-risk area, take these steps to increase the chances of it surviving a wildfire with minimal damage.
Prepare defensible space
Defensible space is essentially the last-ditch firebreak immediately around your home. Many fire prevention concepts are organized around the concept of maximizing defensible space.
To reduce the risk to your home, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention (CalFire) recommends that you manage your property in two zones (even if you are not in California, the following makes good sense to protect your home).
Zone 1 (Extends 30 feet from structure)
- Remove all dead vegetation.
- Remove leaves and pine needles from your yard, roof and gutters.
- Remove branches that hang over your roof.
- Trim trees often. Keep branches 10 feet from other trees.
- Relocate wood piles to Zone 2
- Remove or prune plants and shrubs near windows.
- Remove vegetation from around and under decks.
- Create a separation between trees, shrubs and items that could catch fire, such as patio furniture, wood piles, swing sets, etc.
Zone 2 (Extends 100 feet from structure)
- Cut annual grass down to a maximum height of 4 inches.
- Create horizontal space between shrubs and trees.
- Create vertical space between grass, shrubs and trees.
- Remove fallen leaves, needles, twigs, bark, cones, and small branches. However, they may be permitted to a depth of 3 inches.
Beyond defensible space: Fireproofing
Besides tending to your defensible space, you can also take steps to fireproof your home using various fire-resistant materials and covers to reduce the chances of hot embers entering your home.
Cal Fire also recommends:
- Roofing your home with Class A-rated materials.
- If you have a wooden roof, treat it with a fire-retardant coating.
- Install non-flammable siding.
- Install mesh screens of 1/8" or less in vents and chimneys to block flaming embers.
- Replace single-pane windows with dual-pane ones.
- Use tempered glass in all windows.
A final word
Above all, keep yourself and your family safe. Don't try to be a hero and fight a wildfire by yourself with a hose. Do what you can, well before the fire, and know when to leave.
If you are ordered to evacuate do so as fast as possible. If your home is damaged, wait for authorities to give the okay for people to enter their homes again.
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