What To Do if You Live in a Wildfire Prone Area
Published:February 13, 2024
Edited:February 13, 2024
Living in a wildfire prone area? Learn essential tips on wildfire preparedness and safeguarding your home. Be proactive in protecting your community and property.
Being fire-safe is the number one most effective way to reduce the risk of wildfire damage to your property if you live in a wildfire-prone area. Reducing this risk requires taking action to eliminate potential fire hazards that can lead to further damage. Common hazards include dry vegetation, flammable debris, and a lack of defensible space. By proactively managing fire risks, homeowners can significantly reduce the likelihood of wildfire damage and enhance overall safety for their community.
What Areas Are Most Prone to Wildfire?
In recent years, wildfires have increased in frequency and intensity due to climate change. These increases allow for longer fire seasons and increased fire risk in fire-prone areas. Certain states in the western United States, including California, Oregon, Washington, and parts of Arizona, Nevada, and Colorado, are particularly prone to wildfires. This is due to the arid climate and frequent drought conditions in these regions, resulting in dry landscapes that are highly susceptible to ignition. Climate change exacerbates these conditions by increasing temperatures, prolonging droughts, and altering precipitation patterns, creating more conducive environments for wildfires to ignite and spread.1 Within these states, areas located near forests, grasslands, and urban-wildland interfaces are particularly vulnerable due to the proximity to potential ignition sources and the rapid spread of fires from these areas into residential communities.
Create Defensible Space
Creating defensible space around your home and structures can slow or stop the spread of wildfire and help protect your property. This wildfire mitigation strategy is extremely encouraged in areas prone to wildfire activity.2 Defensible space is a buffer zone between a building and the surrounding vegetation to reduce the risk of fire damage and improve firefighting effectiveness. The concept is divided into three distinct zones, each with its specific requirements and objectives. Here are the zones explained:
- Zone 1 extends 30 feet away from the structure. In this zone, remove all dead vegetation, remove any hanging branches, and trim trees to keep branches a minimum of 10 feet from other trees. Any wood piles should be moved to zone 2.
- Zone 2 covers the area up to 100 feet from the structure. Here, the focus shifts to thinning trees, spacing vegetation, and reducing ladder fuels, which is fuel that can carry a fire burning in low-growing vegetation to taller vegetation.4 This includes pruning trees to a height of at least 6 to 10 feet from the ground and maintaining shrubs to have a buffer zone between each plant.
- Zone 3 extends further into the surrounding landscape, beyond the 100-foot mark. In this zone, the emphasis is on reducing the density of vegetation and maintaining landscape features. This may involve selectively thinning out trees and vegetation, as well as incorporating fire-resistant plant species into the landscape design.3
Plant Selection and Maintenance
When choosing plants for landscaping in fire-prone areas, homeowners should prioritize species with characteristics that minimize fire risks. Plants native to the area are well adapted to the local climate and can thrive with minimal water and maintenance, while also reducing the likelihood of ignition. Selecting plants with high moisture content and low resin or sap content can significantly reduce their flammability as well.5
Regular maintenance is crucial for reducing fire hazards. This involves pruning dead branches, clearing dry leaves and debris, and thinning dense vegetation. Proper plant spacing and clearance around structures decrease the risk of fire reaching buildings. Also, consider creating man-made firebreaks by adding fire-resistant features such as stone pathways.
Seasonal maintenance is essential for maintaining a fire-resilient landscape and reducing the risk of wildfire damage to homes and properties throughout the year. Here are some recommended maintenance tasks to keep your home safe from wildfires year-round:
- Spring: Homeowners should focus on clearing away dead vegetation, fallen leaves, and debris that may have accumulated during the winter months. Pruning trees and shrubs, especially those close to structures, helps prevent fire from spreading both vertically and horizontally.
- Summer: Homeowners are encouraged to regularly water plants and lawns to keep vegetation hydrated. It’s also important to monitor for signs of drought stress and promptly remove dead or dying vegetation.
- Fall: An emphasis should be placed on removing dry, combustible materials such as fallen leaves and pine needles from gutters, roofs, and around the property.
- Winter: Homeowners should continue to monitor and maintain their landscapes by removing dead branches, pruning trees away from structures, and ensuring that firefighting equipment and emergency supplies are easily accessible.6
Insurance Coverage: Read the Fine Print
Understanding the specifics of your insurance coverage is critical, particularly when it comes to what is covered in the event of a wildfire. Policies can vary significantly in terms of coverage limits, deductibles, and exclusions related to wildfire damage. Some policies may cover damage caused directly by fire, while others may also provide coverage for smoke damage, ash cleanup, and additional living expenses incurred if you are forced to evacuate. It is important to be aware of any limitations or exclusions in your policy, such as coverage for outbuildings, landscaping, or belongings stored off-site. It is also important to consider whether your coverage limits are sufficient to fully rebuild or repair your home and replace your belongings in the event of a total loss.7
Be Ready: Have an Evacuation Plan and Checklist
Being prepared with an evacuation plan and checklist ensures the safety of yourself, your loved ones, and your pets in the event of a wildfire. Consider the needs of family members who may have special requirements, such as elderly relatives or individuals with disabilities, and make appropriate arrangements to ensure their safety during evacuation.
Start by familiarizing yourself with local evacuation routes and emergency shelters in your area. Develop a family communication plan that includes designated meeting points and emergency contacts. Prepare an emergency kit containing essential items such as water, non-perishable food, medications, important documents, flashlights, and first-aid supplies.
Create a checklist of tasks to complete before evacuating, including shutting off gas and utilities, securing windows and doors, and moving flammable items away from your home’s exterior.
- Washington Post, “1 in 6 Americans Live in Areas with Significant Wildfire Risk.” Accessed February 4, 2024.
- OSFM, “Oregon Defensible Space for Homeowners & Renters.” Accessed February 4, 2024.
- CalFire, “Prepare for Wildfire.” Accessed February 4, 2024.
- USDA, “Surviving Wildfire.” Accessed February 4, 2024.
- OSU, “Fire-resistant Plants for Home Landscapes.” February 5, 2024.
- Sustainable Defensible Space, “Landscape (Seasonal Maintenance).” February 5, 2024.
- Forbes, “What to Know About Wildfire Insurance.” Accessed February 5, 2024.