Protecting your home during a wildfire

As climate change continues to impact temperatures and conditions, wildfires are increasing in size, severity, and reach. A recent study found that wildfires are expected to increase by 14% in 2030 and 30% in 2050, affecting the West Coast and other global regions. In fact, high-risk areas for wildfires are also the ones experiencing the fastest population growth, like California, Oregon, Washington, and Texas. 

Wildfires can also be particularly costly to homes and cars—even if a wildfire doesn’t directly reach your property, there are other kinds of potential damage. Over 4.5M homes are at a high or extreme risk of wildfire and, on average, over 2,500 homes are destroyed by them each year. In 2021, the economic damage and losses resulted in a loss of $70-90B in the US.

It’s never been more important to be aware and prepared for the risks associated with wildfires. Branch wants you to have all the information you need to equip yourself and your home. Here’s everything you need to know ahead of a wildfire.

Frequently asked questions about wildfires:

  • How do I know if a wildfire is coming? 
    Your local government and weather officials will send an alert or warning about a wildfire risk.

  • How can a wildfire damage my home? 
    If the fire reaches it, a wildfire could potentially destroy your home, put you and your family in danger, and damage the surrounding soil—compromising the foundation.

  • How can I prevent a wildfire from reaching my home? 
    It’s essential to clear nearby branches, trees, shrubs, and other flammable external material surrounding your home.

  • Does home insurance cover wildfire-related damage? 
    Most standard homeowners insurance covers damage caused by a wildfire, and they will reimburse you for ALE (additional living expenses) in case you are evacuated from your home and/or need temporary housing while your home is being repaired.

What should I do to prepare for a wildfire?

  1. Stay aware: Download the FEMA app, set up real-time alerts from the National Weather Service, opt into any local notifications or alert services, and pay attention to air quality alerts—which may suggest the environment is susceptible to a wildfire.

  2. Prep your surroundings: Look for and set up an external water source you can use. Have an evacuation plan ready, noting the available routes, and what you’ll bring with you. In case you don’t have any good evacuation options, have a room ready that can be closed off from outside air so no smoke can enter. A portable air filter and cleaner can be used to improve air quality while you’re sheltering in place.

  3. Keep an emergency kit: Bring essentials like food, first aid, and supplies. Be careful not to bring  any aerosols, oils, or even hand sanitizer, which are flammable materials. Always have a mask handy—ideally an N95—so you’re not breathing smoke. You should also pack a protective outfit in case you need to leave, including fire-resistant shoes, cotton clothes, long-sleeves, and pants.

  4. Clear your surroundings: Wildfires feed off material like leaves and debris, so make sure you have a 30 foot perimeter around your home clear of all flammable objects and materials. That includes keeping roofs, gutters, decks, and patios clear as well. Clear any overhanging branches that are within ten feet of your house and ensure your lawn is watered and mowed.

  5. Fireproof your home: Wildfire embers can travel up to a mile and are often the main cause of home ignitions during a wildfire. Using ember and flame resistant vents—WUI vents—and covering them with ⅛ inch metal mesh screens can prevent embers from entering. We also encourage you to reach out to a professional who can retrofit your home with ember and ignition-resistant or non-combustible materials that will reduce the chance of your home catching fire. This includes dual-paned windows, utilizing treated wood, stucco, or other approved materials rather than natural wood, and re-roofing your home with a metal, clay, or tile roof.

  6. Protect key documents: Digitize your important documents, if possible, and keep them in a fireproof safe or enclosure. If you need to take them with you, put them in your emergency kit.

What should I do during a wildfire?

Your main priorities during a wildfire are to stop the fire from reaching your home and to prevent as much smoke as possible from entering. Of course, pay attention to alerts and be prepared to evacuate. Some other things you can do to help protect yourself and your home:

  • Call 911 to make sure they know you’re inside in case you need any help evacuating
  • Place lawn sprinklers on the roof and near any above-ground fuel tanks
  • Wet your roof, lawn, and shrubs within 15 feet of your home
  • Move furniture away from windows and doors, ensuring any combustible furniture is as far from fire as possible
  • Fill all sinks and tubs with cold water
  • Close doors, windows, and any other coverings or openings to prevent embers from entering your home. Keep doors unlocked in case you need to leave
  • Take down flammable drapes and curtains. If you have venetian blinds or non-flammable window coverings, keep your windows covered to reduce radiant heat
  • If possible, bring your car in a garage and keep an emergency kit there. Keeping the key in the ignition will speed up evacuation

What should I do after a wildfire?

If you were forced to evacuate, you should only return to your home after checking with officials that it’s safe. You should also contact your utility providers to see if your gas and electricity are turned off or on, and make sure the water isn’t contaminated from any associated damage. 

Once you return, check for any gas leaks, hot spots, smoldering stumps or vegetation, and sparks or embers that may be hiding on the roof, your deck, the attic, or any rooms. Look for fire damage and make sure your electric meter isn’t damaged before you turn on the circuit breaker.

Depending on the severity of the wildfire, wear protective clothing and be aware that animals may have been displaced to your area. A mask is a good idea as ash is likely to still be circling in the air. You may also want to speak to firefighters, disaster aid representatives, and other experts who may be able to give you details on how the soil and surrounding area may have been impacted by the wildfire.

Filing insurance claims after a wildfire

In general, a standard homeowners policy as well as renters insurance does cover and insure destruction, damage, and loss of belongings by fire or smoke. If your home becomes uninhabitable, insurance should cover and reimburse you for additional living expenses. As always, you should verify what is included in your coverage.

If you are filing a claim, ensure you do so as soon as possible, as there may be claim filing deadlines. Take as many photos as possible and keep track of communications and related expenses. Hold onto any damaged items as well, until they’re accounted for.

And as a member, we’re always here to answer questions and help in any way that we can.