A wildfire is an unplanned fire that burns in a natural area such as a forest, grassland, or prairie. Wildfires are often caused by humans or lightning and can happen anywhere at any time. Wildfire risk increases during periods of little rain and high winds.
According to the Insurance Information Institute (III), Texas was ranked second to California, with high to extreme wildfire risk in 2019. They estimate 717,800 Texas properties were at risk last year. In 2018, Texans suffered 10,541 fires across 569,811 acres of land. Unfortunately, wildfires can’t always be prevented, but there are steps you can take to protect yourself, your family, and your belongings from damage.
Prepare Before a Wildfire
- Review your insurance policy to make sure you’re covered in case of wildfire. Create a home inventory to help you during a potential claims process.
- Sign up for your community’s warning system. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) also provide emergency alerts.
- Remove dead vegetation and trim branches overhanging your roof.
- Leaves and branches accumulate on your roof and in gutters. Dry debris can be ignited by wind-blown embers. Regularly remove debris from roof and gutters.
- Openings, like garage doors, can be an easy entry point for wildfire embers. To reduce this risk, weather seal the perimeter of your garage door.
- Consider upgrading home features to make sure they are fire-proof. You can use non-combustible siding, gates, and fences, get a Class A fire-rated roof, and fireproof your deck.
- Keep important documents in a fireproof, safe place. Maintain password-protected digital copies as well.
During a Wildfire
If a wildfire is approaching your area, stay alert, monitor conditions, and follow the advice of your local authorities. If you anticipate evacuation orders due to wildfire, there are things you can do to prepare your home before you leave.
1. Shut off gas supply to prevent feeding a fire.
2. Close all doors and windows to stop embers from entering the house and igniting combustible materials, burning it from the inside out.
3. Turn off your air conditioning to prevent outside smoke from entering your home and causing avoidable damage.
After a Wildfire
- Report any damage to your insurance company as soon as possible. Do not enter affected areas or damaged buildings until you are told that they are safe.
- Avoid hot ash, charred trees, smoldering debris, and live embers. The ground may contain heat pockets that can burn you or spark another fire.
- If you can’t live in your home because of fire-related damage, your policy may cover additional living expenses (ALE) such as hotel bills or meals. Save any related receipts and make sure your insurer knows how to contact you.
- Take photos or videos of damage.
- Make a detailed list of all damaged personal property. Use your home inventory list to help with this process.
- Get your property inspected and get a written estimate. Review any contracts before signing.
- Only make emergency repairs before your insurance company’s inspection. Wear a NIOSH-certified respirator and wet debris down to minimize dust particles. Be careful during clean-up!
- Hire a qualified and insured contractor to do the repairs.
- Keep receipts and records of all communications regarding repairs.
- Double-check that the repairs are completed, then take photos or videos for your records.
- Wildfires dramatically change landscape and ground conditions, which can lead to increased risk of flooding from heavy rains, flash flooding, and mudflows. Your flood risk remains significantly higher until vegetation is restored. Consider buying flood insurance to protect your home from future flooding.