The wildfire season in Colorado seems to be longer each year, so there is no time like the present to prepare for the next event. There are some simple steps you can take to greatly increase the likelihood your home will survive a wildfire and make it easier for the firefighters to defend your property.
- The most important step is to create and maintain defensible space around your property. You need to clear dead branches, dry grasses, and brush from around your house and outbuildings. The next step is to remove spindly lower branches from trees, up to a height of 10-15 feet. Then make sure to thin out the skinny new growth trees so you have 10 to 12 feet or between trees. Trees leaning against and over your house may be picturesque, but they are really escalators to lift the fire onto your roof and up nearby trees.
- Make sure your property can be found. Put a sign with reflective house numbers on the road leading to your house and on the driveway.
- Register ALL your telephones with your county’s Emergency Notification Service. This is particularly important so you receive notification based on the location of the potential disaster, not just your physical location. You’ll get the notification at work and your children will get notified at school. This makes locating and reuniting family members much easier and safer.
- Have an evacuation plan and a designated rendezvous point. Everyone should know how to get out and where to go to reunite the family.
- Pack a crate with car keys, important papers, account numbers, a flash drive with photos of your possessions, medications and prescriptions, and family mementos. Keep it by the door at all times and move it to the car when wildfires are nearby. Pack a small bag for each family member with a couple changes of clothes and shoes, a jacket, and toiletries and keep these by the crate. Get name tags for your pets, put notification stickers on your doors, and keep the pet crates near the door.
- Keep your insurance active and up-to-date. If your house is insured for less than 80% of its rebuild cost your insurance company may only pay a portion of the cost to rebuild. Most homeowners’ insurance includes a provision to pay for temporary housing for several months if you are displaced due to a fire. If you are renting you need renters’ insurance, and if your house is paid for you still need homeowners’ insurance.
- Consider getting flood insurance. Once a wildfire has occurred, much of the surrounding area is at risk from flash flooding and mudflows. Damage from these events is probably not covered by homeowners’ or renters’ insurance.
- Evacuate, when you receive an evacuation notice or order, or you determine that it’s unsafe to remain. Homeowners sometimes believe they can protect their home by standing on the roof and spraying the house with a garden hose, for example. However if you get domestic water from a well and the electric lines or poles burn, you will not have water. The amount of water from a tanker truck and fire hoses is often insufficient to save a structure. Even if a homeowner was successful in preventing his roof from igniting, the intense heat of a forest fire, and the infrared heat generated by a fire, passing through the windows is sufficient for materials and furnishings inside the home to spontaneously combust. Indeed, forest fires can burn so hot that officials are unable to enter a burned area for several days after the fire has passed through or been extinguished. Remaining on your property in the face of a wildfire to try and protect your home from burning will not increase the chances of your home surviving the fire; but it will increase the chances that you won’t be able to get out, and that you won’t survive either. Worse yet, it could divert First Responders from fighting the fire and put them at risk should they try to save you.