What to do during a wildfire?

The definitive guide to protecting your home and car during a wildfire

Over the last few years, wildfires have dramatically increased in severity, affecting the West Coast and other global regions. A recent study found that wildfires are expected to increase by 14% in 2030 and 30% in 2050. In 2021, the economic damage and losses resulted in a loss of $70-90B in the US.

As climate change continues to impact temperatures and conditions, wildfires are increasing in size, severity, and reach. California isn’t the only state that has wildfires or a wildfire risk and unfortunately, we’re seeing that the areas at highest risk for wildfires are also ones experiencing the fastest population growth. This is a troubling trend affecting California, Oregon, Washington, and Texas.

Wildfires can be particularly costly to homes and cars — even if a wildfire doesn’t directly reach your property, there are other kinds of effects and damage that can be experienced. 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.

To better prepare you for a wildfire, we put together this guide on what you can do to protect yourself and prepare your home in advance of one.

Frequently Asked Questions About Wildfires

  • How do I know if a wildfire is coming? Your local government and weather officials will send out an alert or warning about a wildfire risk.
  • How can a wildfire damage my home? A wildfire can destroy your home if the fire reaches it, can put you and your family in danger and can also damage the soil around your home, risking the foundation..
  • How can I prevent a wildfire from reaching my home? Clearing your home from branches, trees, shrubs, and other flammable external material is key.
  • How can I protect my home from wildfires? Enlisting the help of an expert and retrofitting your home with ember/fire-resistant materials (like treated wood, stucco), as well as ensuring your vents are covered and your windows have been replaced to prevent breaking can help protect against wildfires.
  • Does home insurance cover wildfire-related damage? Standard homeowners insurance does cover damage caused by 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?

If your property or location is at risk for wildfires or if it’s the season for it, here are a few things you can do to be prepared.

Be aware of communications and alerts: You can download the FEMA app, get real-time alerts from the National Weather Service, opt-into any local notifications or alert services, and pay attention to air quality alerts as it may suggest the environment is susceptible to a wildfire.

Prep your surroundings: Look for and set up an external water source you can use just in case. Lastly, have an evacuation plan ready, noting the routes you can take, and what you’ll bring with you. In case you don’t have any good escape options, have a room ready that can be closed off from the outside air so no smoke can enter. A portable air filter and cleaner should be used that will keep the air quality high while you’re there.

Have a safe emergency kit ready: Bring essentials like food, first aid, and supplies but be careful about bringing 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 prep an outfit that will protect you in case you need to leave. This includes having fire-resistant shoes, cotton clothes and long-sleeves and pants.

Keep the outside of your house clear: Wildfires feed off material like leaves and debris so make sure you have a 30-foot perimeter that’s clear of all flammable objects and materials.That includes keeping roofs, gutters, decks, and patios clear as well. Clear any overhanging tree or shrub branches that are within 10 feet of your house and ensure your lawns are watered and mowed.

Harden and fireproof your house: 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 over vents and under decks can prevent embers from entering. We also encourage you to reach out to an expert that will retrofit your home with ember and ignition-resistant, non-combustible, and other materials that will reduce the chance of your home catching fire. This includes having dual-paned windows (with one window being tempered glass), replacing wooden materials in your home with treated wood, stucco, or other approved materials, and re-roofing your home with a metal, clay, or tile roof.

Protect your 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?

During a wildfire, your main priorities are to prevent as much smoke from entering your house and stopping the fire from reaching your house. Here are some helpful steps.

  • 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, paying attention to any combustible furniture, and ensuring it’s as far from the fire as possible.
  • Fill all sinks and tubs with cold water
  • Close your doors, windows, and any other coverings or openings to prevent embers from entering your Home. In the case of doors, keep them unlocked in case you do need to leave
  • Take down any flammable drapes and curtains but if you have venetian blinds or non-flammable window coverings, cover your windows to reduce radiant heat.
  • Bring in your car if possible and keep an emergency kit stashed there. Keeping the key in the ignition will speed up evacuation.

    You should also pay attention to any alerts and be prepared to evacuate. If you follow the previous steps, you should have emergency kits ready as well as your key documents.

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 okay to return to your home. You should also contact your utility providers to see if your gas and electricity are turned off or on and make sure that the water isn’t contaminated from any associated damage. Once you do 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 meter isn’t damaged before you turn on the circuit breaker.

Depending on the severity of the wildfire, wear protective clothing and material and be aware that animals may have been displaced to your area. A mask is a good idea to keep on as ash is likely to still be circling in the air. You may also want to speak to firefighters, and 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 homeowner’s policy as well as renter’s 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. Depending on your policy, you may even be able to ask for an advance from your policy. As always, you should verify what is covered by your policy.

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

If you’re considering switching home insurance or want to make sure you have the right coverage (for the right price), check out Branch to see if it’s right for you.