Personal Insurance

Understanding Wildfire: Risk Factors and Protecting Your Home

With continued new home construction in the wildland-urban interface, and more people living in “natural” landscapes, it is important to understand the contributing factors to wildfires and how to protect your property.

Wildfire Statistics

Wildfires are a risk faced by many property owners throughout the country each year. In 2015 there were 30,017 wildland fires that burned 3,821,726 acres across the United States. More than 4.5 million U.S. households are at high or extreme risk from wildfire.

Ten of the most wildfire prone states include:

  • Arizona
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Idaho
  • Nevada
  • New Mexico
  • Oregon
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Washington

Top Three Contributing Factors to Wildfire Risk: 

  • FUEL – grass, trees, dense brush
  • SLOPE – steeper slopes can increase the speed and intensity of wildfire
  • ACCESS – dead-end roads can impede fire-fighting equipment

In addition to these top three factors, persisting drought conditions in certain areas also increase wildfire risk.

Though many of the risk factors are beyond our control, there are actions you can take to protect your property.  These include creating and maintaining defensible space and using ignition-resistant construction techniques.  These strategies, coupled with programs to reduce flammable vegetation, have proven to be effective in mitigating damages when wildfires have occurred around residential areas.

Creating and Maintaining Defensible Space

Defensible space is area around your home and other structures where fuels and vegetation are treated, cleared, or reduced to slow the spread of wildfire.  The goal is to keep the fire from coming dangerously close to your home or any other building on the property.  The type and amount of defensible space you need to maintain around your property depends on where you live, how large your property is, and what structures you have on your property besides your home.  If you live in a forest or wildland area, you face a higher risk of wildfire and should be protecting your property with effective defensible space.

All types of vegetation can be fuel for a wildfire, though some trees and shrubs are more flammable than others.  To reduce risk, you will want to maintain an effective distance between your home and the vegetation. Landscape vegetation recommended for areas less than five feet from your home includes an irrigated lawn and low-growing herbaceous (non-woody) plants.  Shrubs and trees should be at least five feet from your home and should be well spaced and well maintained.  Maintain vegetation on all parts of your property by removing dead plant material from all plants on a regular basis.

Using Ignition-Resistant Construction Techniques

There are a variety of construction materials and techniques you can use to protect your home.  These include the following:

Noncombustible or Fire Resistant Materials

The roof of your home is especially vulnerable during a wildfire since embers and flaming debris can travel great distances and land on your roof.  Flammable roofing materials to avoid include wood shakes and wood shingles.  More fire-resistant roofing materials include single ply membranes, fiberglass shingles, slate, metal, clay, and concrete tile.

Fire resistant materials to consider using for the siding of your home include stucco, metal, brick, concrete, and rock.

Dual- or triple-pane thermal glass and fire resistant shutters or drapes can help reduce wildfire risk.  You can also consider installing noncombustible awnings to shield windows.

Ignition-Resistant Construction Techniques

Decks and overhangs are very susceptible to fire.  In addition to using noncombustible materials, decks and porches should be enclosed to the ground.  Floating structures, such as wood decks, create a space where dead vegetation and other fuels may accumulate.  If these structures are already in place around your home, make sure to keep the area underneath clear of debris and combustible materials.

If a wildfire nears your home, there is a possibility of spark and ember intrusion as well as heat accumulation within your home.  You can reduce these risks with air tight construction, unvented attics and crawlspaces, and high performance windows.  Check with your local building experts for recommendations that are suitable for your area.

Other noncombustible materials and building techniques are available for construction of decks, porches, chimneys, and other parts of your home.  Check with your local building experts for recommendations on these materials and techniques before beginning a new project.

In the Event of Loss

It is important that you have the right insurance coverage for your home and property – this means insuring your home for the replacement cost (meaning the amount it would take to rebuild your home, not the amount it is worth in a purchase transaction).

Each person’s home and property is unique and has specific protection needs.   Meeting with your insurance agent on an annual basis is a great way to make sure they understand your coverage needs and are able to recommend the right coverage for you.

In addition, creating a home inventory and updating it on a regular basis can help make the recovery process easier and less stressful in the event of a loss.

For more information and tips on creating a home inventory, click here to view our article “The Top Three Things to Know About a Home Inventory.”

References:

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