If you live in an area prone to wildfires, or you are moving to one soon, you will want to be sure your family and your home are prepared. Because fires can strike suddenly, the best way to prepare for a fire is by planning in advance. Knowing what to do will help you react quickly to protect your family and your home.
Preparing your home
Although there is no way your completely protect your home from a wildfire, you can maintain your home with fire safety in mind. These tips may help protect your home:
- Clear brush and dead vegetation away from your home. You will want to maintain a safety zone of at least 100 feet.
- Cut the lower branches on nearby trees. Also, remove any dead branches that overhang your roof.
- Mow your grass frequently.
- Keep vines away from your home.
- Keep an area of ten feet clear around propane tanks and grills.
- Use fire-resistant material on your roof and on the exterior of your home.
- Plant fire resistant trees and shrubs near your home.
- Keep your roof and gutters clean and free of debris, leaves, and pine needles.
- Screen beneath porches, decks, and floor areas to help keep embers off the exposed wood. Also screen openings to the roof and attic.
- Keep a rake, axe, and shovel handy to use as fire tools.
- Keep a ladder that will reach your roof nearby.
- Remove any flammable items - such as wood piles, lawn furniture, and tarps - from around your home.
- Check for easily accessible water outlets and be sure you have enough water hose to reach any area of the home.
Understanding your insurance policy
In most cases, homeowner's insurance covers fires, including wildfires. Following are some things you can do to understand how your insurance policy works:
- Check your insurance to policy to be sure you understand what's covered and what's not. In most cases, your insurance will include both the home and your belongings in the event of a fire, but there may be exclusions.
- Understand the difference between replacement cost and actual cash value. Replacement costs will cover the cost of new items, while actual cash value only covers what your items were actually worth. For example, if your refrigerator is ten years old, the insurance would only cover a small fraction of what a new refrigerator costs.
- Take an inventory of your home. You can use a written inventory, pictures, or video. An inventory will prove essential in filing insurance claims or seeking financial assistance after a fire. Be sure to store your inventory in a safety deposit box or other safe place.
Preparing your family
In case of a wildfire or other emergency, you'll be able to respond quickly if you and your family have planned ahead. The Ready.gov website has a downloadable Family Emergency Plan to help you put it all together. Here are some things to think about:
- Choose two emergency meeting places. You'll need one place near your home to use in an emergency such as a house fire, and a second place outside your neighborhood in case your family can't get back home.
- Ask an out-of-state friend or relative to be a contact. After a local disaster, it's often easier to call long distance. Family members should call the contact person and tell him or her where they are. Everyone should know the contact's phone number.
- Be sure your children know your phone numbers. If you have younger children, you may want to put a contact card in their backpacks. Keep in mind that during an emergency, text messages may be easier than phone calls.
- Find out if your community has an emergency communication service. Some areas have services that will call or send text messages to keep you updated in an emergency.
- Understand the emergency plan at your children's school or child care. Most schools and child care centers have emergency plans that outline when the facility will close and how information is communicated to parents.
- Learn about emergency shelters in your area. Find out if staying with family or friends is an option. If you have pets, you will want to make arrangements for them. Most shelters do not allow pets.
- Discuss what to do in an evacuation. Have a plan for getting your children from school. Discuss with them where you will meet each other in various situations.
- Plan how you'd care for pets. Make sure you have a crate or other carrier and enough pet food and water. Confirm that your evacuation location will allow pets.
- Put together a disaster supplies kit. This should be easy to grab in case you need to evacuate in a hurry. Get a list of items that should be included at Ready.gov.
Evacuating your home
If you are asked to evacuate during a wildfire, it's important to do so immediately. Here are some things to remember in case of an evacuation:
- Wear protective clothing, including sturdy shoes, long pants, a long-sleeve shirt, and a handkerchief to cover your face.
- Pack your disaster supplies kit.
- Lock your home and choose a route away from the fire. Keep your radio tuned to local stations to get updates on evacuation routes.
- Let someone know when you left your home and where you are going.
- If you have time, you can prepare your home by doing the following:
- Shut off gas and propane.
- Shut all inside doors.
- Open the fireplace damper, but close the fireplace screen.
- Connect garden hoses to water spigots.
- Place lawn sprinklers on the roof and leave on.
- Place a ladder against the house.
- Remove flammable curtains or blinds.
- Turn on outside lights and a light in every room so the house is more visible in heavy smoke.