Learning how to prepare for fire season is a crucial part of ensuring that your home—and your family—stay safe in the event of a wildfire.
It’s not surprising that wildfire insurance coverage is top of mind for homeowners. At the time of this writing, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire) has already reported a total of 2,108 wildfires across more than 19,100 acres since January.
As the heat waves of summer continue to permeate California, the dangers of wildfire season are a persistent challenge for first responders and public utility companies. “All signs point to another busy fire year in California,” according to a June 20, 2019 San Francisco Chronicle article. For many residents, the question isn’t whether a wildfire will occur—it’s when.
In the sections below, we’ll outline a few ways that you can start prepping your home today, as well as provide an overview of wildfire home protection for California residents.
Ways to protect your home from wildfire
Before the summer heat peaks, homeowners must use best practices to defend their property. As a property owner, you can learn wildfire prevention tips by visiting California Wildland Fire Coordinating Group (CWCG).
The site also offers a free app by CalFire. The CalFire app delivers valuable tools and steps to help prepare your family, home, and property for a wildfire and allows you to sign up for custom wildfire alerts. It also provides timely, helpful information via text or push notifications if you must evacuate because of a wildfire.
Within the app, you can also access a checklist of at-home steps to take towards wildfire home protection. Some additional tips include:
Using defensible space
Create a defensible space or a buffer between a building on your property and the grass, trees, shrubs, or any wildland area surrounding it. Use fire-retardant plants such as rockrose, ice plant and aloe, and create fire-safe zones with stone walls, patios, decks, and roadways.
Take steps to make the structures in your property more fire-resistant. Flying embers can destroy homes up to a mile from wildlands and forests. Re-roof with materials like composition or tile. Cover all vent openings with metal mesh, and protect vents in eaves with baffles.
Check your trees for bark beetle infestation. Remove dead trees, thin trees, and underbrush. Rain gutters should be screened or enclosed to prevent plant debris from accumulating.
Keeping water sources close
Having access to multiple water sources near your home can make a big difference, particularly for first responders and public utility companies. If possible, you should keep more than one garden hose within close proximity of your home. For homeowners with a pool, installing a pump can create a significant asset for extinguishing a fire.
Siding materials such as boards, panels, or shingles are commonly used but not ideal for building a fire-resistant home. Better choices include stucco, fiber cement, or wood that has been specifically treated for wildfire home protection. Replacing the outside of your home with fire-resistant materials may not be the cheapest option—but it is certainly an effective one.
Enrolling in wildfire insurance coverage
Another best practice is to review your property insurance policy with your agent to ensure the coverages are up to date and accurate, for the dwelling, personal property, loss of use, and high-value items such as your jewelry or fine art. You will also want to study the additional protection provided by your policy.
Some premier insurance companies are now taking proactive measures by offering a complimentary service called a wildfire defense services endorsement. This service used to be available only to high-net-worth families with a million dollars or more in dwelling replacement costs. If your carrier provides this risk management service in eligible areas of California, check if they require you to opt-in.
Wildfire coverage with Wildfire Defense Systems, Inc.
Insurance carriers partner with private companies, such as Wildfire Defense Systems, Inc. (WDS) and Firebreak Spray Systems, LLC, to defend the property areas before, during, and/or after wildfire events. Before a wildfire occurs, you may request a wildfire assessment and receive recommendations to fireproof your home. The representatives will determine the most appropriate methods of protecting your home from wildfire, such as establishing temporary sprinkler systems or applying a thin gel barrier on the home, landscaping, and other structures.
When a wildfire rages in proximity to your home, private companies such as Wildfire Defense Systems attempt to protect and treat the property, decreasing the probability of damage—but these programs do not guarantee the service provider can reach your property or mitigate the fires on time.
Wildfire coverage with Chubb, Travelers, and Encompass
Chubb offers their Masterpiece homeowners’ policyholders the Wildfire Defense Services as a complimentary option. One of the first insurance companies to partner with Wildfire Defense Systems, Inc., since 2008 Chubb has provided an easy way to enroll for existing clients.
In June 2019, Travelers announced the automatic inclusion of the complimentary Wildfire Defense Services endorsement in all California home and landlord policies. Like Chubb, Travelers is also working with Wildfire Defense Systems for wildfire suppression and structural protection such as brush removal, fuel source mitigation, application of vent tape, application of fire blocking gel and fire retardant, or closing of structure openings.
Encompass offers Wildfire Risk Mitigation Services program for certain parts of Southern California area, partnering with Firebreak Spray Systems, LLC. Clients may opt in to this program by signing a form through their agent. The company sprays a fire-retardant substance around your property, increasing the chances your home will survive a wildfire.
Wildfire coverage with DHW
A personal lines broker at DHW Insurance Brokers can help you review your insurance coverage and determine your eligibility for carriers offering Wildfire Defense Services. Schedule your review today for your peace of mind during wildfire season this year.
Myrna de Vera, Personal Lines Broker