Throughout history, wildfires have persisted across the United States, threatening people’s lives, homes, and other property. Although wildfires have decreased slightly over the last 30 years, the number of acres affected by wildfires has increased. On average, there have been over 70,000 wildfires per year since 2000, which have burned an average of 7 million acres.1 In 2022, there were almost 69,000 wildfires that burned over 7.5 million acres of land.2 This is a critical time to discuss wildfire safety and preparedness with your customers as we move into the peak of wildfire season.
Helping your customers understand that they need a wildfire protection plan is the first step in wildfire preparedness. Preventing a 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.
Read our guide on simple ways you can ensure your customers’ properties are protected in the event of a wildfire.
Customers should create fuel-free space around the home
Defensible space around the home can protect your customers and their family from the dangers of wildfires.3 Defensible space is the buffer created between a building on a property (such as a home) and any grass, trees, or wildland area around it. This space is necessary to slow down or even stop the spread of a wildfire.
Roof should be fire-rated
Make sure your customer’s 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. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends roofs be made of non-combustible materials.4
Install metal screens
Explain to your customers that metal screens, also known as metal mesh screens or wire mesh, will prevent flying embers from entering their homes via the 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.
Wire meshes can also be installed under their porch and other open areas, which will keep sparks and flames from getting underneath them.5
Remove all items that can catch fire
If your customer’s home has a deck, recommend that they remove any items that could catch fire, including dead brush, natural waste, stored items, or dense vegetation. It is best practice to rely only on storage that is either indoors or at least 30 to 100 feet from the home5.
Also, while your customers may typically clean out their gutters for seasonal maintenance in the spring, plant material in gutters can also be ignited by wind-blown embers. Explain that dry debris should be routinely removed from the roof and gutters (including around any skylights).
Help them know and understand their zones
Customers can improve curb appeal and reduce the risk of a wildfire by looking at the 3 zones of their property.
Zone 1 is the five feet immediately around your customer’s home. Also known as the “home ignition zone,” it should be kept clear of all combustible materials and designed with fire-resistant landscaping, including hardscapes like gravel, pavers, concrete, and other non-combustible mulch materials and certain plants.
As mentioned before, vegetation should be limited. However, there are a variety of colorful fire-resistant plants suitable for Zone 1, depending on their house siding. Remind your customers that part of keeping their landscape fire-resistant is watering and caring for vegetation so it does not become dry and flammable. Zone 1 requires consistent maintenance to be sure debris and weeds don’t negate their efforts.
Zone 2 is the area up to 30 feet around the home. Customers should remove dead vegetation and shrubs underneath trees and keep any trees healthy and well-spaced—about 10 feet between canopies. Remind your customers to remove any branches that hang over their roofs and keep all dead branches away from their chimneys.3
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 is the area from 30 to 100 feet around the home. If your customer lives near a steep slope, this range extends up to 200 feet. The purpose of Zone 3 is to reduce the energy and spread of wildfires. Your customers should be removing, trimming, and spacing out trees and shrubs.
Don’t forget about fences
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. Together, the two fences create more fuel for a more intense fire, which increases their homes’ exposure to heat and embers.
Remind your customers to talk to their neighbors and work together to repair or remove sections of their fences that overlap. Even further, it’s important that your customers ask neighbors about the steps they are taking to prepare their homes for wildfires, because a neighbor’s risk is their risk, too.
Preparing for a wildfire evacuation
Facing the threat of a wildfire requires swift and informed action to ensure the safety of your clients and their family. Wildfires can escalate quickly, and it’s critical for individuals to be prepared with a well-thought-out evacuation plan.
Further, when it comes to the evacuation process, guidance from fire officials, local governments and law enforcement plays a critical role. When these officials recommend an evacuation, your clients will need to act promptly. Below are key tips for navigating the evacuation process during a wildfire emergency:1
- Stay informed: During a wildfire emergency, it’s important to stay informed about local news and emergency alerts. During this time, instruction from fire officials is paramount, and, if evacuation is advised, you should follow their guidance without delay.
- Develop an evacuation plan: Creating a comprehensive evacuation plan that outlines multiple exit routes from your home can make all the difference when it comes to staying safe during a wildfire evacuation. Prepare for various scenarios and ensure all household members are familiar with the plan. If multiple evacuation routes exist, opt for ones that lead away from the fire’s path. Refrain from using shortcuts that might lead to danger or congestion.
- Assemble an emergency kit: Create a well-stocked emergency kit that includes water, nonperishable food, medications, clothing, important documents, a flashlight, batteries and a first-aid kit. The kit should be made ahead of time and also contain any special items needed for infants, elderly family members or pets.
- Maintain communication: Keep communication devices charged and compile a list of emergency contacts. Establish a communication protocol with family and friends to stay connected during the evacuation process.
- Prepare your vehicle: Vehicles should be adequately fueled and ready for use throughout the wildfire season. If evacuation becomes necessary, having a well-maintained car is crucial for a smooth escape. When evacuating, drive cautiously and within speed limits. Smoke can impair visibility, and roads may be crowded. Keep headlights on and windows rolled up.
- Account for animals: If you have pets or livestock, formulate a plan for their evacuation. Ensure you have the proper carriers, leashes, and an adequate supply of food and water for them.
Evacuations can be stressful, particularly if you are accompanied by young children or senior family members. Above all, it’s important to follow the directives of local authorities, law enforcement and firefighters during a wildfire to ensure the safety of you and your loved ones.
Why is it important to engage communities in wildfire preparedness efforts?
Engaging in wildfire preparedness efforts is not just important, but a crucial responsibility that can have a profound impact on safeguarding lives, property and the environment. When communities actively participate in wildfire preparedness initiatives in collaboration with insurance agents, local organizations and government bodies, they establish a formidable defense against the looming threat of wildfires.
What’s more, communities that invest time and effort into wildfire preparedness often have a heightened resilience against disasters. Through education, practice drills and other preparedness efforts, residents become better equipped to handle emergency situations. This increased readiness not only protects individual households, but also creates a collective strength that bolsters the overall disaster response capacity of the community.
Go the extra mile to 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.