Wildfire season may pose a serious threat to millions of Americans each year. Even if you don't live in a wildfire-prone state, FEMA warns that wildfires can happen anywhere, destroying homes, threatening public safety, and triggering mandatory evacuations with limited advanced warning. Wildfires may occur at any time during the year, although their greatest potential is during the hot summer months when limited rainfall and high winds could contribute to the fire's spread.
Taking steps today to prepare for a wildfire — including advanced preparation for quick evacuation and hardening your house and surrounding landscape — may help protect your family and your home.
Wildfire preparedness starts with maintaining an adequate defensible space around your home, choosing fire safe landscaping and hardening your home by using fire resistant building material, according to CAL FIRE.
Defensible space is split into two key zones:
Zone 1: 30 feet from buildings, structures, decks:
- Remove all dead plants and vegetation (including weeds), dry leaves and pine needles from your yard and roof.
- Remove branches that overhang the roof and relocate wood piles to Zone 2.
Zone 2: 100 feet from buildings, structures, decks:
- Cut or mow annual grass to a maximum height of 4 inches.
- Horizontally space grass, shrubs and trees to reduce the spread for wildfire.
- Remove all tree branches that are 6 feet or lower to the ground.
Choose fire safe landscaping. Fire-safe landscaping uses plants that are strategically positioned to resist the spread of fire. For example, in California, plants like French lavender, red monkey flower, California fuchsia, and sage are low-maintenance, drought-tolerant plants that not only beautify your home, but also help make your landscape fire-safe. Talk with your local nursery about selecting the best fire safe plants for your home.
Harden your home to make it more fire resistant. According to CAL FIRE, the roof is the most vulnerable part of your home to a fire. Retro-fit your roof with composition, metal or tile rather than wood or shingle roofs that are less flammable. Cover all vent openings with metal mesh to protect against embers. When building your home, opt for ignition-resistant materials such as stucco, fiber cement, treated wood, or other approved materials.
FEMA recommends storing basic emergency supplies in a "go bag". If you need to evacuate with little notice, you won't waste precious time finding these items; they'll be ready to go in one place. When preparing your go bag, include the following:
- Prescriptions: Store medications with dosage information, medical equipment, batteries or power cords, eyeglasses and hearing aids.
- Papers: Include important documents (either hard copies or digital copies on external hard drives/thumb drives). Keep papers in a fireproof, waterproof box and store a backup with a secure cloud-based service.
- Personal needs: Store water bottles, food, a first aid kit, cash, and backup phone chargers in your go bag.
- Priceless items: Store priceless family mementos, like photographs, or other small valuables in a fireproof, waterproof safe that you can quickly grab with leaving.
The Insurance Information Institute recommends reviewing your coverage every year. During your annual review, talk to your agent about your homeowner's insurance needs and whether you have adequate coverage to protect your home in the event of a wildfire.
Create a plan with family members to communicate during an evacuation, know your evacuation routes, and delegate responsibilities for family pets and livestock. In the event of an evacuation, if you have time to prepare your home before you leave, FEMA recommends the following actions you can do to help firefighters:
- Connect hoses and fill garbage cans, tubs and other large containers with water.
- Shut off natural gas and move propane or other fuel cans away from the house.
- Turn on outdoor and indoor lights to make every room more visible during heavy smoke.
- Close all windows, vents, doors and fireplace screens, which will reduce drafts in the home and radiant heat.
- Move flammable furniture and window treatments, including outdoor furniture, into the center of the home away from windows.
Once a wildfire has burned through your area, additional dangers may remain. Exercise caution when returning home and do a full property check.