Wildfire season in California begins as early as May, with a heavy risk of wildfires lasting until October or, in some cases, even later. As the rainy season ends, California residents must carefully consider the steps they may need to take to prepare for the coming challenges. Ongoing droughts throughout the state may also increase the risk of wildfires and the damage caused by those fires. Reach out to a California wildfire lawyer.
As a California resident, you may need to look closely at your preparation for the coming wildfire season to ensure that you have the necessary protection to keep yourself and your property as safe as possible.
1. Check Your Insurance Coverage
Well before wildfire season begins, take the time to carefully review your insurance coverage—or, if you have any doubts or concerns about your coverage, have a lawyer look over it for you. You may need to consider several key points to ensure you have the necessary coverage to rebuild or take care of repairs if your home gets caught in a wildfire.
Do You Have Wildfire Coverage?
Check to ensure that your insurance coverage includes not only house fires but also wildfires. In some areas of California, especially fire-prone areas, you may have to add a wildfire rider to your insurance policy to ensure full coverage in the event of a fire. A lawyer can help give you a better idea of what your insurance policy covers and how to ensure you have the full coverage you need.
Do You Have Adequate Coverage for Your Home and Possessions?
The recent rise in property costs across California and the country has left many underinsured. If you still have the same insurance coverage on your home that you had when you bought the house, you may discover that it no longer covers the full value of your home and the possessions you might lose in the event of a wildfire. Consult with your insurance agent to make sure that you have adequate coverage in the event of a destructive event.
What Areas of Property Insurance Coverage Do You Have?
Carefully review your property insurance policy to give you a better overall idea of how much your policy covers.
If you do get caught by a wildfire, you may want to take advantage of things like:
- Coverage for any additional travel you have to do due to displacement from your home
- Coverage for lodging if you cannot use your home while repairs take place
- Coverage for your vehicle if it suffers damage in a wildfire
If you have any questions, consult a lawyer to better understand what coverage you can expect in the event of a disaster.
2. Prepare Your Home
No one wants to believe that a wildfire will hit their neighborhood. Unfortunately, wildfires can strike many areas in California, often without warning. Before wildfire season arrives, take the time to prepare your home.
Create a Buffer
You need approximately 100 feet of defensible space around your home. That means removing weeds, plants, shrubs, trees, and other items that could catch fire from 100 feet around your home. Make sure that you clear away dead leaves and branches left over from winter. Furthermore, keep firewood and other flammable materials more than 100 feet from the house.
You may also want to take a careful look at where branches stretch. Prevent branches from stretching over your home itself, which could pose a danger in the event of a wildfire.
Use Hardening Materials on Your Home
Take a look at your home’s materials. Many homes throughout California are already made with materials designed to help resist wildfire damage. However, as the 2023 wildfire season approaches, you may want to take a careful look at the materials used in the design of your home and, in some cases, upgrade your schedule.
You may, for example, want to redo your roof with metal, clay, or tile. You may also want to check your exterior walls and make sure they are made of treated wood, stucco, or fiber cement. You may also want to look at patio covers, decks, garages, and fences to ensure that they meet fire-resistant standards and that you can keep your home as safe as possible in the event of a wildfire.
Check Access to Your Home
Pay careful attention to your driveway, especially if you have a long route into your home, and whether local roads offer clear access to emergency vehicles. Make sure you maintain clear space at the sides of the driveway to allow easier access for emergency vehicles in the event of a fire or other disaster.
Evaluate Water Supply
Take a look at your water hoses and determine how much reach they have. Ideally, you want water hoses that can reach all areas of your home, if possible. Putting out embers on your own can go a long way toward protecting your property in an emergency.
Look at Vents
If you have vents that offer access to your home, remember that they could offer a point of vulnerability in the event of a fire. Embers that pass through vents could ignite materials inside the home, leading to increased risk. Make sure you use 1/8” metal mesh and new vents, including ember and flame-resistant vents, to help protect your home throughout the wildfire season.
4. Create and Review Your Evacuation Plan
Look at local evacuation maps and ensure you know where to go in the event of a wildfire. Remember that your family may need a strategy and plan for where you will meet up if separated during an evacuation. Do not rely on cell phones in an emergency since you may struggle to get through. By setting a clear rendezvous well outside the local area, you can give your family members more confidence about how to handle a potential emergency.
As part of your evacuation plan, consider details like what items you may want to grab from your home if possible. What will you prioritize in the event of an emergency? Do you want to make sure that you grab specific sentimental items? What about child or infant care items: not essential items (which you should have in your go bag), but items that can make caring for your child easier?
In addition, if you have multiple vehicles, consider whether you want to take all of them (which could result in the family getting separated) or if you want to keep your family in one vehicle while you evacuate (which could result in the loss of a vehicle).
Review your evacuation plan carefully with older children and teens, especially those with a license and car who might end up separated from their family in a wildfire. Ensure older children and teens know what to do in an emergency, including whether they should plan to come home if a wildfire warning comes at work and how they should handle it if they cannot contact family members.
5. Prepare the Indoors
Even if you do not end up in the direct path of a wildfire, you may still be exposed to smoke and ash. Having the ability to shut off key areas of your home can make it easier to handle wildfire dangers.
- Installing an air purifier. An air purifier can help reduce exposure to smoke.
- Setting up a specific area of your home that you can close off from the rest of the house and the outside as much as possible. Having an area where you can escape much of the smoke associated with a wildfire can make breathing easier.
- Sealing off your home from wildfire smoke. For example, you may want to seal off vents or take other steps to ensure smoke cannot enter.
Preparing the inside of your home can help make it habitable in the event of a nearby wildfire. Even if you have prepared your home, pay attention to evacuation orders.
6. Store Important Documents Appropriately
Carefully consider your storage of important documents. If a wildfire reaches your home, documents may not survive even in fireproof safes since the heat from the fire may rise higher than the safe can withstand. Consider whether you may want to store important documents outside your home, in a bank deposit box, or if you want to pack them in your go bag to keep them with you in the event of an emergency.
You may also want to have a plan to replace important documents if needed. Know where you must go and who to talk to replace birth certificates, your driver’s license, and any other identification documents.
7. Invest in Respirators, if Needed
Respirators can make it easier to breathe in the event of heavy smoke. If you or a family member have a condition that makes breathing difficult, including asthma or emphysema, you may want to use a respirator to decrease smoke inhalation until you get out of the wildfire radius.
Most respirators do not fit on children, so you may want an alternative plan to keep children safe from heavy smoke from a wildfire. Talk to your doctor about the safety measures you might need to take to protect yourself or your family from smoke.
Get Help if Your Home Suffers Wildfire Damage
If your home suffers damage in a wildfire, you may need to use your insurance coverage to help cover the cost of repairs for those damages. However, insurance companies may not make getting the coverage you deserve easy.
Contact an attorney as soon after the wildfire as possible to get a better idea of how much compensation the insurance company should offer you for the damage to your property and, if necessary, to help you fight for fair compensation as part of your claim.