Throughout history, wildfires have persisted across the United States, threatening people’s lives, homes and other property. Verisk’s 2020 Wildfire Risk Analysis identified 4.8 million U.S. homes at high or extreme risk of wildfire, with more than 2 million in California alone. As droughts and heat waves continue to occur, the risk only becomes greater. There were 4,596 more fires in 2021 than there were in 2020, from the period of January 1 to August 16, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. This is a critical time to discuss wildfire safety and preparedness with your customers as we move into the peak of wildfire season.
People cause as many as 90 percent of U.S. wildland fires, according to the U.S. Department of Interior. Research over the past decade has shown that one of the key ways to lower the risk to structures in the path of wildland fires is to reduce the available fuel around a structure.
Helping your customers understand that they need a wildfire protection plan is the first step. Preventing fire from coming too close to their home or structure is the goal, since once ignited, it can become its own fire source, generating wind-driven embers that could threaten and ignite neighboring properties.
So what are some simple “Do it Yourself” steps to ensure your customers’ properties are protected?
Create a defensible space around the home
There are a number of simple weekend projects your customers can tackle to create a fuel-free space around their homes. Together, these measures will help give homes a much better chance of surviving a wildfire.
First, make sure their roof is fire-rated; roofs are rated from Class A, which provides the strongest fire resistance protection, to Class C. The good news is three quarters of all homes in the United States already have a Class A asphalt shingle roof. If they do need to replace their roof, nearly all asphalt shingles and clay and concrete roof tiles currently on the market are Class A fire-rated.
Second, they can install metal screens to keep flying embers from entering their homes through attic, roof gable and crawlspace vents. These screens should be 1/8 inch or finer inside all vents and need to be checked periodically for any accumulated debris.
Third, if their home has a deck, recommend that they remove any items that could catch fire, including dead brush and natural waste or stored items. It is best practice to rely only on storage that is either indoors or at least 30 feet from the home. Plant material in gutters can also be ignited by wind-blown embers, so they should routinely remove dry debris from the roof and gutters, including around skylights.
Help them know their zones
There are other things your customers can do to improve curb appeal while also reducing wildfire risk. Ask them to look at the five feet immediately around their home, also known as Zone 1. This “home ignition zone” should be kept clear of all combustible materials and designed with fire-resistant landscaping, including hardscape like gravel, pavers, concrete, and other noncombustible mulch materials, as well as certain plants. While vegetation should be limited, there are a variety of colorful fire-resistant plants suitable for Zone 1, depending on their house siding. Customers should remember that part of keeping their landscape fire resistant is watering and caring for vegetation so it does not become dry and flammable. The home ignition zone requires consistent maintenance to be sure debris and weeds don’t negate their efforts.
In Zone 2, the area up to 30 feet around the home, they should remove dead vegetation and shrubs underneath trees and keep any trees healthy and well-spaced—about 10 feet between canopies. In addition to landscaping, your customers’ personal belongings can also be vulnerable to wildfire. They should move all items such as RVs or trailers out of this zone or into Zone 3.
Zone 3 extends 100 feet around the home, or up to 200 feet if the home is near a steep slope. The goal here is to reduce the energy and spread of the wildfire, and, similarly to Zone 2, precautions largely consist of removing, trimming and spacing out trees and shrubs.
Good fences make good neighbors
If your customers and their neighbors have fences that overlap, even a small gap between fences can cause debris and embers to accumulate and ignite. Additionally, the two fences together create more fuel for a more intense fire, increasing their homes’ exposure to heat and burning embers. Remind your customers to talk to their neighbors and work together to repair or remove sections that overlap. The conversation shouldn’t stop at fences either. It’s important to ask neighbors about the steps they are taking to prepare their home for wildfires, because a neighbor’s risk is their risk, too.
These simple DIY tips can help your customers avoid a potentially catastrophic loss. Don’t hesitate to discuss wildfire safety and preparedness with them today.
Talk to us
At Nationwide, we go the extra mile to help you help your customers with wildfire safety and preparedness. Download this infographic to share with your customers and start the conversation.
For more information, contact your Nationwide Sales Manager or visit our partners at the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety for more wildfire safety tips and resources at disastersafety.org/wildfire.