Imagine this . . . you are in your backyard grilling dinner with your family, enjoying your day off. The weather is beautifully warm and your steak is grilled to perfection. The perfect way to unwind from a long week at work. But when you look up at the sky, you notice there’s a lot more smoke than just what’s coming off the grill.
All of a sudden, fear starts to set in. There is a fire somewhere, but you don’t really know how close it is. Is your home in danger? You saw the news about the wildfire a few towns over, but could that already be spreading here? You tell your kids not to worry, that it probably won’t get close. But your worst fears are confirmed that night when you get an emergency alert on your phone: “Fire Warning. Evacuate immediately.”
Many people think this situation will never happen to them. But the chance of your community being impacted by fire could be more likely than you think.
According to the Insurance Information Institute, from January 1 to September 11, 2017, there were 42,369 wildfires in the United States with 8.2 million acres burned. These fires aren’t just in the middle of nowhere. Property losses from wildfires in 2015 reached nearly $1.5 billion and in every state there are homes that are at potential risk to be affected by wildfires.
More than two million households in California are at high risk from wildfires. In Montana, the number of households at high risk accounts for 28% of all households.
Every year, peoples’ homes and belongings are devastated by wildfires. That scenario from the beginning doesn’t seem all that farfetched anymore. What would you do in that situation? What can you do now to prepare for it?
Fortunately, there are some simple steps you can take to ensure you are protected from a wildfire and know what to do in case of an evacuation.
Step 1: Review your homeowners insurance coverage.
The amount of coverage you have should be enough to rebuild your home in case of a total loss. Talk with your agent to make sure your current coverage is enough in case your home is destroyed by fire. You should have enough coverage to replace your home and all of your belongings.
Do you have a vehicle, boat, ATV, or recreational vehicle that isn’t insured its own policy? Homeowners insurance policies will often exclude or otherwise severely restrict coverage for these types of vehicles. If you own any of these, tell your agent so he or she can find the right policy to protect them from a fire.
If you are renting, be sure to ask your agent about renters insurance to protect your personal belongings.
Step 2: Do a home inventory.
If your house burns down, your homeowners or renters insurance policy will pay the cost to replace your personal belongings . . . ALL of your personal belongings. That can be a lot of stuff. Often, the hardest part of the claims process is just remembering what needs to be replaced. Cataloging your personal belongings now can save you from adding more stress to an already stressful situation. Be sure to record receipts, purchase dates, and appraisals if you have them. If you don’t want to write down all of your items, take a video. Go through cabinets, closets, garages, and attics. Be sure to record every item you can. Make sure your inventory is stored either online or away from your home so it doesn’t get destroyed in the fire along with everything else. If you want help doing an inventory, check out Safeco’s free home inventory app https://www.safeco.com/customer-resources/mobile-voice-apps/home-inventory-app.
Step 3: Take steps to protect your home.
There are things you can do to reduce the chances of your home being destroyed by a fire. Choose fire resistant plants and trees for your yard, and make sure your roof and yard are kept clean of any debris. Keeping your grass and weeds cut will also help. If you have any wood piles, make sure they are stacked at least 30 feet from your home and any other buildings. If you are being evacuated, be sure to turn off any gas valves and pilot lights before you leave.
Some insurance carriers offer wildfire defense programs for additional home protection. These programs can send crews to remove overgrown vegetation, fuel tanks, or other exposures. They may even apply fire blocking gel to your home. Often, customers are required to enroll in these programs, so ask your agent if this is something your insurance carrier offers.
Always remember that the safety for you and your family come first. Evacuate as quickly as you can in an emergency situation, and don’t return to the site until you are assured it is safe to do so by the authorities.
Step 4: Take what you do need, leave what you don’t.
It is a good idea to have some things ready to take with you at moment’s notice. Make a 72-hour emergency kit, with blankets, non-perishable food, first aid equipment, water, and extra cash. Depending on the location and severity of the fire, it may be hard to find a place to stay quickly. For tips on building a 72-hour kit, visit https://www.ready.gov/build-a-kit.
Have all of your important documents stored and easily accessible. While birth certificates, social security card, titles and deeds can be replaced, you’ll save yourself a lot of hassle and paperwork if you can take these documents with you.
Don’t forget about the sentimental things. While your insurance policy will pay to replace your belongings, there’s no price tag that can be put on sentimental value. Some things are irreplaceable. Pets, trophies, wedding photos/memorabilia, artwork, letters, journals, and collections are good examples of things that can’t be replaced by dollar signs. Make a list of these items now so that you don’t have to think about it when evacuation time comes. You may not be able to take everything on your list, so be sure to list the items that are most important to you first. Everything else should be left. Don’t let your personal belongings get in the way of your personal safety.
Now, let’s think back to the scenario at the beginning of this article. The unthinkable is happening right now. You’ve got to leave your home, knowing full well it could be gone when you get back. But you’ve taken the steps to protect it. You’ve done all you can and you have the peace of mind of knowing that your family’s financial stability won’t be compromised. You know that everything’s going to be okay.
Wildfire Risk and Protection Resources