CHICAGO—With drought conditions continuing across much of the western United States, the threat of devastating wildfires remains high, and residents of wildfire-prone states need to ensure they are prepared. The Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCI) encourages residents living in fire-prone areas to participate in the National Fire Protection Association’s Wildfire Community Preparedness Day being held Saturday, May 2 and to begin physically and financially preparing for wildfire season.
Although 2014 ranked on the low end of fires and acres burned compared to past seasons, more than 63,000 wildfires still burned about 3.6 million acres last year. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration expects drought conditions to persist or worsen in Arizona, California, Nevada, Oregon and western Colorado through June. And the National Interagency Fire Center predicts above normal wildland fire potential across the north central United States, part of the northern Rockies, across the West Coast, and in southwestern Arizona.
"Meteorological and fuel conditions can combine quickly for explosive, devastating fires, which means residents in fire-prone areas need to prepare now to protect lives and property,” said Christopher Hackett, PCI director of personal lines policy. “Holding and participating in fire safety drills is the first step. Physical preparation, such as clearing defensible space around your home, and financial preparation, such as maintaining adequate homeowners insurance are critically important as well.”
Participating in events like the Wildfire Community Preparedness Day can raise wildfire awareness and help protect homes, neighborhoods and entire communities, while increasing safety for firefighters.
It’s also important for residents of fire-prone areas to perform the following preparations:
- Create 100 feet of defensible space around your home by clearing dead brush, grass and shrubs. Defensible space can slow the spread of a fire and help keep fire fighters safe
- Clean out leaves, pine needles and dirt that may have collected in rain gutters or on roofs.
- Cut back tree branches that hang over the house or near the chimney, and create 6 feet of clearance between the ground and tree branches.
- Consider landscaping with fire-resistant trees and shrubs such as deciduous trees and low-growing shrubs.
- Remove any wood piles or wooden play houses against homes or structures.
- Keep operational fire extinguishers in kitchens.
- Install new batteries in fire and smoke alarms.
- Know your building codes and use fire resistant materials.
- Create a family plan and hold family evacuation drills. Make sure your family knows what actions to take if a fire breaks out. Include plans for pets.
- Identify family valuables and treasures you can gather in a short time span.
- Read and understand your insurance policy. The typical homeowners policy covers damage caused by wind, fire and lightning. Comprehensive auto insurance generally covers damage or destruction to a vehicle from a fire.
- Review your insurance policy regularly with your insurance company or agent. If you have recently remodeled or built a new addition onto your property, be sure to increase the amount of protection to cover the upgraded materials or expanded square footage. Talk about types of insurance policies and learn the difference between a replacement cost policy, which generally provides for the repair or replacement of damaged covered personal property items, and an actual cash value policy, that will only provide reimbursement for the depreciated value of the covered personal property item. Decide which type of policy best fits your needs, and maintain adequate insurance, because once a wildfire turns into a fire storm there is little that can be done to halt its path of destruction. Be sure to maintain a homeowner’s insurance policy with adequate policy limits so you can rebuild the home if there is a fire.
- Create and keep an inventory of your personal items and photograph or videotape them for documentation and claims purposes. Be specific: document how many TVs, computers, sets of towels and sheets, and other items you have. The more detail you record, the easier recovery will be. Keep receipts for major purchases and keep records of the age, current value, make, model and serial number of your personal property. Keep your inventory and a copy of your insurance policy at another location.
Additional tips for physical and financial preparation, as well as recovery and rebuilding guidance for anyone directly impacted by a wildfire can be found at www.pciaa.net. For more information about Wildfire Community Preparedness Day, visit www.wildfireprepday.org.