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How to protect your home from wildfire

Fire fighter walking along a street where every home burned to the ground
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So far, as of August 2021, nearly 39,000 wildfires have occurred in the U.S. Overall, 4.5 million households are at high or extreme risk for experiencing wildfires. Whether or not you live in a high-risk state, you can take steps to protect your family and finances from wildfires such as installing fire-resistant decks and roofs or removing flammable debris and vegetation from your lawn. You may also want to contact your insurance provider and see if your homeowners insurance covers wildfires. If not, you may wish to purchase additional coverage.

Below, Bankrate’s editorial team compiled a simple guide to help you protect yourself, your property and your finances against wildfires.

Bankrate Insights
  • Protect your home: Install fire-resistant materials where possible, including noncombustible decking materials, a fire rated-roof, safer windows and fire-resistant landscaping.
  • Develop an evacuation plan: Decide how your family will evacuate in the event of a fire and communicate it to each family member.
  • Check to see if your homeowners insurance provides wildfire coverage: Some home insurance policies offer protection against wildfires. Others require you to purchase additional coverage. If you live in a high-risk area for wildfires, you may want to ensure you have appropriate coverage.

How to protect your home from wildfire

You may be wondering how to reduce the likelihood of your home igniting in the event of a wildfire. There are a few different steps you can take. Preparing your home for wildfire season can mitigate the damage done and the amount you have to repair in the event of a fire.

Create defensible space

Defensible space describes the area around a building specifically designed to slow the spread of wildfire by reducing fire hazards. Defensible space is broken down into three zones, defined by their distance from your home. Below, Bankrate’s insurance editorial team provides tips on preparing each zone to be as fire-resistant as possible.

Zone 1

Zone 1 encompasses the ground between zero and five feet from your home. This space may include landscaping, shrubbery, gutters, roofing and windows. You can generally expect to spend the most time fire-proofing Zone 1, as it typically includes the highest concentration of items.

To create defensible space that decreases wildfire risk in Zone 1, you may want to:

  • Use non-flammable construction materials like cement and stone.
  • Avoid storing propane tanks against or underneath your home.
  • Install a Class A fire-rated roof.
  • Install safer windows, with multi-pane tempered glass, and window screens that protect against floating embers.

Zone 2

Zone 2 includes the property between five and 30 feet from the home. Common hazards in this area include yard vegetation, dry leaves and landscaping.

You can help mitigate fire hazards in Zone 2 by:

  • Clearing your yard of vegetation and debris and removing dry leaves and overgrowth promptly.
  • Installing noncombustible decking materials
  • Laying mulch to surround your landscaping.

Zone 3

Zone 3 encompasses ground between 30 and 100 feet from the house.

In this area, you might want to consider:

  • Utilizing a landscaping strategy that creates firebreaks by way of walls, pathways and flowerbeds made of stone.
  • Maintaining your lawn.
  • Planting fire-resistant hardwood trees.

What causes fires?

Nearly 85% of wildfires in the United States originate from human activity. For instance, wildfires commonly start from abandoned campfires, bonfires, cigarette butts, arson or equipment malfunctions. Fires can also be caused by natural events such as lightning strikes and intensified during heat waves and droughts.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, fire season has extended from around four months to six to eight months in recent years. Even winter wildfire outbreaks occur.

Fire season has become more destructive and erratic due to:

  • Winter snows melting earlier
  • Rain arriving later in the fall
  • Extended drought
  • The spreading of invasive, easily flammable species like cheatgrass

Fires can cause devastating damage to your home. As of August 8, 2021, 1,062 structures were either damaged or destroyed by California’s wildfires and more than 875,000 acres were burned.

When you’re a homeowner in a wildfire-prone area, the potential risks and costs can be staggering. From higher insurance premiums to the risk of losing belongings, pets and your home, the costs can be immeasurable. To ensure you are protected if a wildfire breaks out in your neighborhood, it is important to consider if wildfire insurance is included in your home insurance policy.

Determine whether your home is in a high-risk area

The geographic area in which you live is one of the best predictors for your home’s wildfire risk. Although California is notorious for its devastating fires, many other U.S. states face wildfire risks.

States with hot, dry climates like California and Texas are conducive to wildfires, but climate is not the only factor. Homes within 2,500 feet of canyons, wildfire areas or brush areas are more susceptible to ignite, particularly during the hot, dry seasons.

The top 10 states with the most acres burned in 2020 (in order of acres burned) are:

  • California
  • Oregon
  • Arizona
  • Washington
  • Colorado
  • Montana
  • Wyoming
  • Utah
  • Idaho
  • Nevada

Click on each state below to see the number of acres burned due to wildfires in 2020.

If you live in a wildfire-prone area, your insurance premium will likely be higher. For example, If you purchase wildfire insurance in California, you may spend more than a homeowner in Maine. In some cases, homeowners may be denied coverage under their standard home insurance policy and instead be required to purchase a standalone policy. This may occur if your house were a long distance from the nearest fire department, for example.

Tips for keeping you and your home protected against wildfires

If your home could be at risk of fire damage, it helps to do everything you can to keep yourself, your family and your home protected. Review the following suggestions for setting up an extra layer of protection between a wildfire and your home.

  • Develop an evacuation for you and your family. Determine meeting points and alternate evacuation routes.
  • Create a home inventory list. Keep a record of your belongings and their values to provide proof of loss and expedite your claim in the event of a wildfire.
  • Determine whether your home is in a high-risk area. Regions with long, dry summers have dry vegetation, making these areas prone to fires starting and spreading more easily when the winds arrive in the fall.
  • Develop an understanding of what your home insurance covers and what areas it may be lacking. Consider the cost to rebuild your home and property. Will your current coverage protect you financially in the event of a wildfire?
  • Make sure wildfires are covered in your policy. If you live in a wildfire-prone area, your insurance premium will be higher. In some cases, homeowners may be denied coverage under the standard home policy and instead be required to purchase a separate policy for wildfires.

Is wildfire damage covered by all insurance policies?

Most standard homeowners’ policies include coverage for wildfire damage, and the best homeowners insurance providers offer this coverage at competitive rates. However, if you live in a high-risk area, such as those within a close range of a canyon, you may want to opt for additional coverage for total protection. Your provider may also require you to purchase additional coverage if you live far away from the nearest fire department.

When you’re shopping for home insurance, keep in mind that homeowners policies can vary in coverages provided. The best homeowners insurance companies typically offer competitive rates, coverage that fits your needs and highly-rated customer service.

Written by
Lizzie Nealon
Insurance Writer
Lizzie Nealon is a former insurance writer for Bankrate. Her favorite part of the job is making home, auto and life insurance digestible for readers so they can prepare for the future.
Edited by
Insurance Editor