Protecting Your Home From Wildfires

Real Estate Nate

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As global temperatures continue to increase because of human-induced climate change, the weather becomes more severe and harder to predict.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, weather events leading to more than $1 billion in damage, a key indicator of a changing climate, are on the rise in the United States.

The last five years have accounted for more than one-third of the damage costs accumulated over the previous 42 years.

Considering the United States already spends around $500 billion a year recovering from natural disasters, it’s not a good sign to see these numbers rising.

Wildfires: A Growing Threat

Flooding and hurricanes are the most common and most costly disasters in the US, but wildfires are third, resulting in $36 billion in damages. And these are also on the rise. As the weather warms up and areas stay dry, wildfires burn more land every year.

Most of the fire threats in the country are localized in the South, Southwest and West.

Over the past few years, some of the most devastating fires in history swept through California, Arizona, Washington and Oregon, highlighting the risk these disasters pose.

How to Protect Your Home From Wildfires

Although you can do many things to keep your home safe from wildfires, the reality is that there may come a time when Mother Nature overcomes (and the most we can do is pray). There are few things more dangerous and unpredictable than an out-of-control wildfire. One change of wind direction and the risks can multiply exponentially.

If you live in an area prone to wildfires, always heed local warnings and, if the time comes, evacuation orders.

Hopefully, with G-d’s help, it never gets to this point. But even if it does, if you take steps to prepare, you can try to minimize the damage and disruption to your life.

Here are some of the most important:

Use Fireproof Materials in Your Home

One of the best defenses against wildfires is using fireproof materials, meaning those with a Class A fire rating. These materials are not combustible and can withstand the extreme heat of a wildfire.

If you live in an area prone to wildfires, ensure your roof and siding are all made with Class A materials. But your roof is the absolute most important. Because of its surface area and angle, your roof is most susceptible to an approaching fire. Fireproof materials can considerably lower this risk.

Create a defensible space

Many fire agencies and departments use the term "defensible space" to refer to the space around your home specifically prepared to be less of a fire risk.

In most cases, this space should be at least 30 feet in all directions around your home. It might be worth expanding this zone to 100 feet in some areas.

To try and keep your home protected against wildfires, make sure to do the following in your defensible zone:

  • Keep the area clear of dry vegetation such as needles, leaves, dead plants or dry grass. During fire season, you may need to tend to this near-daily to keep the risk low.
  • Remove any flammable materials such as garbage and recycling or furniture, such as lawn chairs or picnic tables.
  • Clear gutters of all debris, especially leaves and needles.
  • Trim trees to keep from touching one another. The recommendation is to put 10 feet between each tree.
  • Relocate wood piles.
  • If possible, use inorganic materials on the ground, such as stones, pebbles, shells, etc., not organic material such as mulch.

You can leave the grass longer and cut it less frequently the further you get from home. But inside this “defensible zone,” you will want to be as vigilant as possible to reduce the fire's risk.

Provide access to water

If the wildfire gets close enough to your property, chances are you won’t be able to fight it on your own and will need to call professionals. But you can be the first line of defense for your home by ensuring ample access to water throughout the property.

The best thing to have is a sprinkler system. Even if you only use it for emergencies, you can spray water over an area that is getting too hot or has already caught ablaze. The sprinkler could cut the wind from under a fire before becoming too big and out of control.

If you don't have a sprinkler system, ensure all the hose faucets have functional hoses and are working. It may also be a good idea to keep a couple of large buckets of water, especially during fire season, in case you need quick access to it to put out an ember or spark.

Protect eaves, vents and gutters

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One of the most dangerous aspects of wildfires is embers. These tiny flakes of burning material get carried in the wind and can quickly turn into a full-blown blaze after coming into contact with flammable materials on your property.

It’s your job to keep the ground area around your home clear, but you also have to take care of the top of your home. Install metal screens on your gutters, vents and eaves to try and prevent embers from coming into contact with debris.

This will help keep them clean and safe most of the time, but also be sure to get up on a ladder and visually inspect them at least a few times each year—or make this a part of your regular home maintenance routine if you live in an area where wildfires are more common.

Make your property visible for first responders

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Although we all hope it never comes to this, if a wildfire comes too close and threatens your property, the fire department will need to be able to find you to protect your home.

Make sure your house number is displayed and easy to read. If there are any difficult aspects of navigating your property, such as a hidden or shared drive, put up some reflective and easy-to-read signage so first responders can find your property. Time is of the essence in firefighting, so make sure you do everything you can to buy yourself more.

Buy fire insurance

Insurance is another thing you hope you never need but is ultimately vital to protecting your home from wildfires.

Many homeowners insurance policies already cover you for fires, but you may want to check if there are any limits. Those living in areas where fires are more common may want to purchase additional coverage.

Insurance makes it easier to repair or replace damaged parts of your home more quickly, which means less time with your home exposed to risk.

Take Fires Seriously

In the end, while the precautions you take matter greatly, the most important aspect of protecting your home from wildfires is your attitude. Taking the risk seriously and following through with the necessary protections makes you fire-prepared and your home as safe as possible from this dangerous natural phenomenon.

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Nate Johnson is a Real Estate Investment Expert at NeighborWho, a leading property search site whose mission is to help people find in-depth information about properties and property owners in order to find new investment opportunities.

Salt Lake City, UT
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