While climate change continues to make wildfire season longer and more destructive, the 2022 season was among the mildest in years due to rain and cooler temperatures. However, slow fire years are often followed by bigger ones — so if you live in a wildfire-prone area, now is the time to assess and prepare your home for next season.
Eight of the 10 most costly wildfires in the United States took place between 2017 and 2020. Federal and local governments have developed a variety of wildfire protection plans to keep fires from spreading in communities, but individual homeowners play an important role as well.
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Ji Yun Lee, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at Washington State University, co-authored a study on proactive actions homeowners can take to limit wildfire damage in their community. The study broke this down into three broad categories:
1. Home hardening
Home hardening means using materials that reduce the likelihood of ignition. Some examples are using non-combustion or ignition-resistant siding and trim, installing a Class-A fire-resistant roof assembly, installing dual-pane windows, and installing fire sprinklers. You should also clear debris from your roof, gutters, downspouts, decks, and porches.
2. Defensible space
When homes ignite during a wildfire, it’s usually due to embers and small flames, often carried by airborne wood or vegetation. That’s why it’s important to pay attention to conditions as far as 200 feet from the foundation of your home. Homeowners can take actions like clearing vegetation around flammable objects like propane tanks and creating fuel breaks — areas where fire can’t spread as quickly — with driveways, walkways, patios, and decks. Farther out, homeowners should do things to interrupt the path of a fire by removing dead leaves and ensuring there’s enough space between trees.
3. Homeowners insurance
While an insurance policy can’t prevent wildfire damage, it can help alleviate the financial burden of repair and reconstruction. Lee’s study surveyed 80 homeowners in California and Washington who had experienced wildfire damage to their houses in the past five years and found that those without homeowners insurance were less likely to repair their houses and more likely to report financial hardships like mortgage default and high levels of debt.
Home insurance in high-risk wildfire areas can be costly, and finding coverage can be difficult. Residents of these areas often purchase coverage via a FAIR (Fair Access to Insurance Requirements) Plan if normal policies are unavailable. Because these policies are exclusively for high-risk homes, they’re often more expensive than standard homeowners insurance.
However, most insurers offer discounts to homeowners who take steps to fortify their homes against fire, such as home hardening or creating defensible space. Homes that qualify for the Wildfire Prepared Home designation set by the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety could be eligible for discounts. Homeowners can check whether they’re eligible and apply for an official designation on the Wildfire Prepared website.
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