Wildfires will soon be the new norm due to extreme droughts and changing climates. Homeowners should be prepared. According to a Columbia University study, the West U.S. is experiencing a megadrought that is predicted to cause an early wildfire season.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), nearly half the country is suffering from worsening drought conditions. However, one particular state is heating up. “The truth is that in California, this drought will get worse before it gets better,” said Daniel Swain, a UCLA climate scientist who contributed to a 2020 study which found that climate change is increasing the risk of wildfires across California.
These are the essential things you need to know in order to prepare your family, home and yourself for wildfires.
Prepare an emergency plan
Safety should always be your top priority. American Red Cross suggests that people listen to local radio stations or TV stations to keep up to date on wildfires and to have an evacuation plan.
Make sure you have an emergency kit ready and packed. Nicole Maul, American Red Cross regional communications director, says, “If you need to evacuate, chances of you not having much notice.” Maul suggests packing a backpack with water, first-aid kits, flashlights, cash, and a hand crank radio.
Protect your home with defensible spaces
If possible, you should keep at least 100 feet distance between your home and wildbrush. This “defensible area” allows firefighters to fight wildfires and prevents flames from reaching your home. Defensible space can be created by clearing out flammable items near your home. This includes tall grass and shrubs, regular mowing, and not planting evergreens that could catch fire.
There are many ways that homes can catch fire: wildfire flames and heat from nearby vegetation, as well as flying embers from wildfires up to a mile distant. These tips can help you protect your property.
- All vent openings can be covered with metal mesh.
- Take out all debris from your roof or gutters.
- You can also box in your eaves using non-flammable materials.
In case of a fire, keep a shovel, a fire extinguisher and a hose on hand.
Find out what coverage your insurance provides
Most homeowners and renters insurance policies cover damage from smoke and wildfire, but only to the extent of your coverage limits. While wildfire damage to cars is not covered by collision coverage, comprehensive insurance provides an option.
Your insurer should be notified if you have made any significant changes to your living area since your last conversation. To be fully covered, you may have to increase your personal property and dwelling limits.
To ensure you are covered if you live in high-risk areas for wildfires, separate fire insurance may be required by your state’s Fair Access to Insurance Requirements Plan. FAIR policies provide coverage for high-risk areas that are subject to fire, vandalism and windstorms. Additional insurance, such as liability coverage, is required by private insurers to provide additional coverage.
Additional coverage for living expenses
Many people are unaware that homeowners insurance may cover temporary living expenses while your house is being rebuilt or repaired due to wildfire damage. Kevin Daley, president for the Western U.S. Zone at Pure Insurance, said this. This is also known as “extra living expenses” or loss of use coverage. It covers costs such as hotel and restaurant bills, and pet boarding fees.
The homeowners policy usually includes loss of use coverage. However, it comes with a limit. This limit is usually a percentage the policy’s total dwelling coverage.
Extended replacement cost coverage
Your dwelling coverage will only pay enough to rebuild your house up to the replacement value. Independent insurance agent Joe Gilmartin in California has observed that contractors are more expensive after wildfires. Extended replacement cost coverage might help to offset the rise.
This optional coverage pays more than your dwelling coverage’s face value, up to a certain amount. Check with your policy to see if it offers this coverage. Gilmartin states that extended replacement cost insurance can help “keep up with the costs of building material [and] to the cost inflation.”
We can help
Many organizations offer assistance to disaster victims if you have been affected by wildfires.
- Airbnb’s Open Homes program allows people to offer their homes to disaster victims in need of emergency housing.
- California Fire Foundation provides emotional and financial support for firefighters and their families.
- RedRover Responders is an organization that offers shelter and care to animals who have been displaced by natural catastrophes.
- American Red Cross provides shelter and food for disaster victims.