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Extreme droughts and changing climates mean wildfires are the new normal, and homeowners need to be ready.
Here’s what you should know to prepare yourself, your family and your home for wildfires.
How insurance covers wildfire damage
Damage from wildfire and smoke is covered by most homeowners or renters insurance policies, but only up to your coverage limits. Meanwhile, car damage from wildfires is covered by comprehensive insurance, an optional auto coverage typically sold with collision coverage.
If you’ve made any changes to your living space since you last spoke with your carrier, like an expensive art purchase or an addition to your home, let your insurer know. You may need to increase your personal property or dwelling limits to be fully covered.
If you live in a high-risk area for wildfires, you may need to purchase separate fire insurance through your state’s Fair Access to Insurance Requirements Plan. In most states, FAIR policies offer coverage in high-risk areas for damage from fire, vandalism, windstorms and riots. For more coverage, like liability coverage typically included in standard homeowners policies, you’ll need additional insurance from a private insurer.
Additional living expense coverage
A homeowners insurance policy typically includes coverage for any temporary living expenses that arise while your home is being repaired or rebuilt due to wildfire damage, known as additional living expenses or loss of use coverage. This part of a standard home policy will pay for things like hotels, restaurant bills, and even pet boarding fees beyond your normal living costs.
Loss of use coverage is typically included in a homeowners policy but comes with a limit, usually a percentage of the policy’s total dwelling coverage.
Extended replacement cost coverage
Your dwelling coverage will pay only enough to rebuild your home up to its replacement value, which may not be enough. Building contractors may charge more for construction after wildfires, and extended replacement cost coverage can help cushion the increase.
Check whether your policy has extended replacement cost coverage, which pays out more than the face value of your dwelling coverage, up to a specified amount.
Protect your home with defensible space
There should be at least 100 feet between your home and any wild brush, if possible. This “defensible space” provides room for firefighters to battle wildfires and keeps flames from getting too close to your home. You can create defensible space by removing anything flammable located directly next to your home, like tall grass or shrubs, mowing your lawn regularly and not planting evergreens that may easily catch fire.
Homes catch fire in a few ways: from wildfire flames, heat from vegetation burning nearby and flying embers from wildfires burning up to a mile away. To help protect your property, try these “home hardening” tips from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection:
Cover all vent openings with metal mesh.
Remove debris from your roof and gutters.
Box in your eaves with nonflammable materials.
Keep a fire extinguisher, a shovel and a hose available in case there’s a fire on your property.
Have an emergency plan
Safety should be a top priority. The American Red Cross recommends people stay informed on wildfires in the area and have an evacuation plan.
Be sure to have an emergency kit packed and ready. Fill a backpack with essentials like water, a first-aid kit, a flashlight, a hand-crank radio and some extra cash.
Help is available
If you've been affected by wildfires and need help, many organizations offer relief for disaster victims, including:
Airbnb.org, which lets people offer their space to those in need of emergency housing during a disaster.
The California Fire Foundation, which provides financial and emotional support to firefighters and their families.
RedRover Responders, an organization that provides care and shelter to animals displaced by natural disasters.
The American Red Cross, which offers food and shelter to disaster victims.