Fire season in California can start as early as May, with the peak months being July through October. However, with climate change well underway, we’re starting to see fires become a yearlong problem for The Golden State.
While it's still too early for predictions for the 2023 wildfire season for the Western United States, California homeowners should still make sure they have the right home insurance coverage in place ahead of potentially catastrophic wildfires.
When does fire season in California start?
As climate change progresses, California is seeing wildfires breakout earlier and earlier. In 2022, California saw its ninth driest January on record, which contributed to the Colorado Fire on January 21.  The fire burned through 687 acres of Monterey County near Big Sur, and was active for 114 days. 
Of the top 10 most destructive wildfires in California history, eight of them occurred in the months of July, September, and October. Two of them occurred in November. 
Where do fires happen most in California?
According to a study by the First Street Foundation research lab, more than 4.6 million properties in California fall into a wildfire risk category.  Below are where the top 10 largest wildfires occurred in California. 
What starts wildfires in California?
Close to 90% of wildfires in the United States are human-caused, but lightning strikes tend to cause the most devastating wildfire damage.  Below is the top 15 largest wildfires in California state history and how they were started.
SCU Lightning Complex
LNU Lightning Complex
Does homeowners insurance cover fire damage in California?
A standard homeowners insurance policy covers fire and smoke damage to your home and personal property. Homeowners insurance will also help pay for additional living expenses — like a hotel stay or restaurant meals — if you need to temporarily relocate while your home is being repaired after a fire.
However, it's become increasingly difficult to find coverage — let alone affordable coverage — in California altogether. The uptick in home-threatening wildfires, state government regulations that force insurers to take on more risk when writing policies, and ongoing supply chain issues has brought the home insurance crisis in California to a tipping point.
Home insurance costs are on the rise in California
Home insurance rates went up nearly 10% in California from May 2021 to May 2022, according to the Policygenius Home Insurance Pricing Report. This is due to a combination of inflation, rising building costs, a shortage in labor, and an increase in wildfires.
“There’s inflation that’s taken place, so the cost to rebuild a home costs quite a bit more than it used to,” says Janet Ruiz, Director of Strategic Communications at the Insurance Information Institute. “There’s also a shortage of contractors. And we’re seeing hotter, drier weather — and more wind — which leads to more wildfires. So all these things are coming into play at the same time.”
Many carriers are no longer insuring homes in certain parts of the state, while others are leaving the state's home insurance market altogether. If you’re struggling to find affordable or adequate coverage, here are some options.
Consider the California FAIR Plan
The California Fair Access to Insurance Requirements (FAIR) Plan is a last-resort coverage option for homeowners in California that don’t qualify for coverage through traditional insurance companies. The FAIR Plan is administered by the state of California, but private insurers are required to participate in the program.
But FAIR Plans are typically more expensive and less comprehensive than standard home insurance coverage, but may be a good option if you’re looking for fire insurance and live in a high risk fire area. In order to qualify for a FAIR Plan you’ll need to prove you were denied coverage by multiple different insurance companies.
→ Learn more about how FAIR Plans work
You may want to pair your FAIR Plan with a difference in conditions (DIC) policy
Since FAIR Plan coverage is limited, many California homeowners pair their FAIR Plan with a difference in conditions policy to fill in any coverage gaps.
Consider excess and surplus (E&S) coverage
Excess and surplus insurance companies are unregulated, which allows these companies to insure risks standard insurers see as too high. This means you can likely find an E&S insurer that offers fire insurance for your high-risk home. Just keep in mind that because E&S insurance is unregulated, they can price your policy however they choose, so the policies often tend to be more expensive than traditional home insurance coverage.
How to prepare for the 2023 fire season in California
Wildfires are a part of life for most Californians. Here are a few things you can do to stay safe before, during, and after a wildfire.
Before the fire
Make sure you have the proper home insurance and fire insurance coverage in place
Remove all dead and dying vegetation, landscaping, and plants
Relocate firewood and lumber
Gather emergency supplies and create an emergency kit
Know your evacuation routes
Choose a room that you can stay in that will keep the fire and smoke out and put a portable air filter or purifier in it
Keep track of fires near you with local updates
During the fire
Keep smoke outside as best as possible
Turn air purifying devices on
Wear a respirator mask, like an N95
Avoid using candles, fireplaces, wood burning stoves, etc
Evacuate if advised to do so by government officials
Continue to keep track of fire alerts and local updates
After the fire
Check air quality reports
Protect yourself from ash when cleaning up by wearing gloves, long sleeved pants and shirts, shoes, socks, and goggles
Wash off any ash that gets on your skin or in your eyes
If air quality is poor, continue to wear a respirator mask
Be alert about your drinking water as it could be contaminated
If you need to drive, look out for debris
Make temporary, emergency repairs to your home if needed
Take photos of the damage to your home
File a claim with your insurance company
How to keep home insurance costs down in California
The California Department of Insurance is working with insurers to help make homes in California more eligible for coverage through mitigating fire risk. And if you do properly fire-proof your home, you may be rewarded with a discount on your insurance premiums. Below are two available programs:
1. Wildfire Prepared Home
Wildfire Prepared Home is a program through The Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS). If you receive an official Wildfire Prepared Home designation, you may receive a discount on your home insurance. Below are some of the requirements:
Class-A fire-resistant rated roof that’s clear of debris
Gutters and downspouts made of noncombustible material, like metal, that are clear of debris
Noncombustible vents or ones resistant to corrosion, ember, and fire
Exterior walls with a minimum of 6 vertical inches (measured from the ground up) of noncombustible material such as brick, stone, or concrete
Decks and porches that are clear of debris and don’t have trees or shrubbery on them
→ Learn more about the Wildfire Prepared Home program
2. Firewise USA
Administered through the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), Firewise USA is a community program that can help you mitigate your home's fire risk.
“If you’re part of a Firewise USA community [program], many insurers offer a discount. It makes a lot of difference because Firewise communities do big fire breaks to keep fire out of the communities and some common grounds. And they help individual homeowners get hooked up [with contractors to help fire-proof their homes],” says Ruiz.
To become a Firewise USA community, you'll have to apply along with your community members and provide information about how you and your community have mitigated your fire risk.