A few decades ago, California’s wildfire season ran from May through October. Due to climate change, the season starts earlier and ends later every year. Some experts agree that wildfires in California are a year-round problem.
As a California resident, you probably know a lot about wildfires. Since humans, not nature, cause the majority of wildfires in the state, it’s hard to predict when the next one will strike. Getting ready for them is the key to keeping your property safe and alive.
Let’s take a closer look at preparing for the wildfire season and taking action after facing wildfire damage.
Why You Need to Prepare for the Wildfire Season
Every year, California suffers from over 5,000 wildfires. That’s around 14 fires a day. Hundreds of people lose their property during these fires, while others lose their lives. People who survive are usually the ones who prepare.
If you live in California, you need to be prepared for the possibility of a wildfire. Counties that are at the highest risk of experiencing a wildfire are Riverside, Placer, and Ventura. In Los Angeles, 25 percent of properties are at risk of suffering from a wildfire.
In California, wildfires aren’t something unexpected. They are a part of your everyday life. If you avoid one of them this year, it’s likely to hit you the next or the year after. That’s why preparations are integral to your health and financial well-being.
Protect Your House
In Riverside, 77 percent of properties risk facing a wildfire. This means that if you live in this county, your chances of avoiding one of these fires are slim. The same is true for many other California counties, including Kern, Fresno, and San Bernardino.
Protect your house against wildfires.
Here is how.
- Review your roof – Consider strengthening your roof with such materials as clay or tile. Wood and shingles are highly likely to sustain damage during a fire.
- Cover your vents – Cover vent openings with metal mesh so debris doesn’t enter your house during a fire.
- Reinforce your windows – Fires break windows and enter homes quickly. To prevent windows from breaking, consider installing double-paned windows. Ideally, use panes made from tempered glass. Install screens on as many windows as possible.
- Replace your siding – Fiber cement, stucco, metal sheeting, and other fire-resistant materials work better than vinyl and similar vulnerable siding materials.
- Clear the gutters – Clean rain gutters regularly to remove debris that can easily ignite. Gutters should be made of corrosion-resistant and non-combustible materials.
- Cover the chimney – Your chimney and stovepipe outlets should have metal screens to prevent embers from entering your home. When the wildfire season begins, close the fireplace flue.
- Buy an air cleaner – If you need to stay inside during a wildfire, you should have an air cleaner or filter handy.
If you don’t have time to make significant changes to your house, you can start by moving all the flammable materials away from the structure. Move all flammable objects at least 30 feet away from the house. This includes lawn furniture, lawn mowers, propane tanks, wood files, and children’s toys
You can also treat wood and other combustible materials in the roof, decks, and siding with approved fire-retardant chemicals.
Protect Your Yard
The landscape of your home should also be wildfire-resistant. With the right approach, you can stop the fire on your property before it gets to your house.
Here is how:
- Plant fire-resistant shrubs, plants, and trees. (Keep in mind that fire-resistant isn’t fire-proof. A wildfire can still destroy these plants. However, they can slow the flame down).
- Remove all flammable objects and vegetation at least five feet away from the house.
- All overhanging trees and shrubs’ branches should stay 10 feet away from your house.
- Regularly water and mow your lawn.
- Trim all tree limbs within ten feet above the ground.
- Remove all plants, dead leaves, dry branches, and anything else that can catch fire.
Protect your yard to keep the fire from entering your house. Even if there aren’t any signs of wildfire yet, you need to keep flammable objects as far away from your home as possible.
Create an Emergency Kit
While you hope for the best outcome of a wildfire, you need to prepare for the worst. That’s why preparing an emergency supply kit is a must-do. You may need to leave your house without much warning. In an emergency, you will not likely have enough time to get your things together.
An emergency supply kit should include:
- Face masks
- Food and water supplies for three days per person and pet (food needs to be non-perishable)
- Maps with evacuation routes (remember, your cell phone may not work).
- Three-day supply of your prescription and emergency medication (including contact lenses).
- Change of clothing
- Comfortable shoes
- First aid kit
- Car keys, credit card, cash
- Flashlights and batteries
- Copies of identification documents (driver’s license, passport, birth certificate)
- Valuables (but only those that aren’t heavy)
Take laptops or personal computers if you have enough time before the evacuation. Keep your car fueled and keep emergency supplies inside.
Remember, you should only take as much as you can carry. You may not always be able to drive through wildfire areas. At some point, you may need to walk or even run.
Know What to Do During a Wildfire
Whether you are going to evacuate or plan to stay inside:
- Wear protective clothing outside the house (long sleeves, pants, gloves, and handkerchief or mask).
- Turn on air cleaners or filters inside the house (use HEPA filters).
- Prepare fire tools (handsaw, shovel, bucket).
- Close all vents, eaves, doors (inside the house, too), windows, and pet doors.
- Close all blinds and shutters.
- Shut off any gas sources inside and outside your home.
- Fill any available containers with water (pool, sink, tub)
- Turn on lawn sprinklers.
Prepare to evacuate at any time. So, keep your emergency supply kit handy.
Plan the Evacuation Route
In some cases, you need to leave your house to stay safe. It doesn’t mean that the fire will destroy your home. However, the smoke can make staying inside dangerous.
To stay healthy and minimize the consequences of a wildfire, you need to know your evacuation route:
- Learn about your community’s local evacuation plan.
- Identify several evacuation routes (remember that roads may be blocked).
- Plan for evacuating children, pets, and family members with disabilities.
- Make arrangements to share transportation with neighbors if necessary.
- Figure out where you can stay for a few days until the wildfire passes (friends, family, hotel, or shelter).
If you plan to go to a shelter, download the American Red Cross Shelter Finder or its handy Emergency App. Keep in mind that not all shelters accept pets. Call the shelter of your choice in advance to check if it does.
Your family should know which steps to take if you need to evacuate during a wildfire. Such quick actions (even in the middle of the night) shouldn’t surprise your children or elderly family members. Make sure everyone knows their roles.
Damages to Recover in a Wildfire Lawsuit
If you can find the person or company responsible for the wildfire, you can use them for different types of damages, including:
The main damage homeowners face after a wildfire is property damage. Your property doesn’t have to burn down to claim compensation for such damages. It can suffer the consequences of fire, smoke, soot, and water.
You can get compensation for:
- Structural damages
- Damages to other structures on your property (barns, garages, etc.)
- Damage to personal property inside and outside your house
- Damage to your vehicles, electronics, and appliances
- Landscaping and agricultural damage
If damage to your house keeps you from working, you can also claim lost wages. In addition, you can seek compensation for living expenses you incurred while your house was damaged. It’s also possible to recover all evacuation costs.
You can obtain compensation for damage to your lawn. Falling soot and ash can kill your yard’s foliage, plants, and other greenery. Replacing them can cost thousands of dollars.
Smoke-Related Personal Injuries
Smoke can inflict severe damage if the wildfire doesn’t damage your home or physically burn you or your family.
If you breathe in wildfire smoke, you can experience:
- Respiratory problems
- Cardiovascular problems
Children, pregnant women, and older adults are especially vulnerable to smoke damage. If you can provide evidence of this damage, you can seek compensation.
Physical Wildfire Injuries
If you sustained injuries in a wildfire, you could obtain compensation. Burn injuries can be severe. Some of them are catastrophic.
You have the right to recover damages for all expenses related to such injuries, including:
- Medical bills
- Surgery costs
- Post-op care
- At-home care
- Recovery therapy
You need to provide evidence to back your wildfire injury claim. Hold on to all of your bills and doctors’ reports.
Some of the physical wildfire injuries may not become obvious immediately. If you were close to the wildfire, see a doctor as soon as possible. Besides catching a problem on time, such a visit can generate valuable evidence that strengthens your claim.
Wildfires are highly traumatic experiences. If the wildfire hurts you, you may suffer pain, emotional anguish, psychological trauma, disabilities, loss of consortium, and much more. California laws allow you to seek compensation for such damages.
Non-economic wildfire damages are usually greater than economic damages (injuries, property damage). However, they may be harder to prove.
To have a better chance of recovering non-economic damages (also called pain and suffering), you would need evidence, such as:
- Photos and videos of your injuries
- Journal where you describe daily activities
- Photos and other proof of your life before the wildfire (to demonstrate how it has changed).
- Testimony from friends and family
Additionally, you may need to hire an expert witness who can testify to the extent of your emotional anguish and psychological trauma. Such testimony can help the judge evaluate the damage amount.
Wrongful Death Damages
You could also seek compensation if your loved one died in a wildfire.
The at-fault party can compensate you for:
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Medical expenses (if the person needed treatment before dying)
- The decedent’s pain and suffering
- Emotional anguish
- Loss of emotional and financial support
- Loss of inheritance
You would need to provide evidence that the death of your loved one happened due to a wildfire. All related expenses require backing with evidence as well.
Wildfire damage can leave people, families, and entire communities devastated. If you want to survive such a fire, it’s imperative to prepare. Make sure you know what to do when a wildfire strikes. Gather emergency items, strengthen your property, and learn about evacuation possibilities.
Unfortunately, no matter how well you prepare, a wildfire can still cause damage. If you suffered from a wildfire someone’s negligent actions caused, speak to an attorney. You may obtain sizable compensation.