9. Prep your home and landscaping.
CALFire recommends creating a fire-resistant zone around your home of at least 100 feet. This “defensible space” should be kept free of dead vegetation, debris, and flammable materials. Grass should be cut to four inches or less, and all tree branches up to 10 feet above the ground or hanging over your roof should be trimmed, Head says. And don’t ignore the rain gutters: Head advises installing screens over gutters to prevent accumulation of debris, which can ignite and cascade flames into your home.
When designing your landscaping, leave ample space between shrubs and trees, which will allow emergency crews to easily access your home in case of a fire.
“There’s less of a chance of everything catching on fire all at one time if you don’t have a ton of ground fuel that can carry into trees and brush,” Head says. Ideally, the defensible space will enable a fire to smolder out before it reaches your home.
10. Harden your home.
Though fire-proofing—or “hardening”—your home can be a costly task, it can also mean the difference between returning to a pile of ash and a still-standing structure after a fire.
The roof is one of the most vulnerable parts of your home, Head says, and those constructed with wood shingles are at higher risk of destruction during a fire. Recommended materials for re-roofing include composition shingles, metal, and tile.
Additionally, exterior walls constructed of wood boards, panels, or shingles are combustible and not recommended for fire-prone areas. Common siding materials should be replaced with ignition-resistant materials such as stucco, fiber cement, wall siding, or fire-retardant-treated wood.
Decks, fences, and patio coverings should also be constructed of ignition-resistant or noncombustible materials, like wood lumber, shakes, and shingles treated with fire retardant.
Before a fire even reaches your home, windows can shatter due to heat. This forms an opening for flying embers to enter your home and start a fire. CALFire recommends installing dual- or triple-pane windows to reduce the chance of breakage, and limiting the size and number of windows that abut vegetation-heavy areas.
Vents and chimneys can also serve as portals for embers. To prevent this, use one-eighth- to one-fourth-inch metal mesh to cover vent openings, and noncombustible screens no thinner than three-eighths of an inch for chimney outlets.
Outside your home, make sure you’ve created conditions that make it easy for emergency responders to identify and access your property. Ensure your address is easily visible from the street, and install gates that open inward and can accommodate emergency vehicles. If applicable, consider maintaining access roads with a minimum of 10 feet of clearance on either side, which allows for two-way traffic.
11. Check your water supply.
To fight a fire on your property, emergency crews will require water. Installing multiple garden hoses long enough to reach all structures should be sufficient, according to CALFire. However, if your home is far away from a fire hydrant, AAA’s Reid strongly recommends installing a water tank or pumps in pools or wells. He’s also seen neighbors form cooperatives for water to support a local community tank.
Proximity to a water source affects your Insurance Services Office (ISO) rating, a number classification from one to 10 that evaluates your community’s fire department, water supply, fire safety control, and emergency communications. A Class One rating signifies superior fire services, while a Class 10 rating means the service level near your home doesn’t meet ISO’s minimum fire protection criteria.
Reid advises reaching out to your local fire department to determine your ISO rating, a number that will affect your insurance rates. “Any rating of five or less means insurance companies will insure you no problem,” he says. “Once you get above a five, it gets dicey.”
Something insurance companies often don’t tell clients, according to Reid, is the importance of keeping fire retardant on your property. “I always make sure I have a tank of fire retardant—and not just water—so I can spray my house down in case of a fire,” he says.
12. Review your insurance coverage.
Reid has seen it time and again: People who’ve just lost their homes not only can’t recall the name of their insurance company, but also are uncertain what their policies cover. This is something to investigate before wildfire strikes, he stresses.
All homeowners insurance covers fire, but the amount of coverage—and the expediency with which the provider will process your claim—varies from carrier to carrier.
For those living in California, especially fire-prone areas, Reid recommends investing in extra coverage. “The first thing people want to do with insurance is cheap out, especially on the things that matter most: homeowners, life, car,” he says. “I would invest in this insurance because when you need it most, you’ll be glad you did.”
There are three main classes of insurance: preferred, standard, and nonstandard. The quality of coverage decreases with each respective class. Some plans cover replacement costs for damage, while others cover only the actual cash value. Call your carrier to determine what—and how much—your plan covers.
If your car is damaged in a fire, comprehensive car insurance will cover its replacement cost, Reid says. If you have only minimum car insurance or just liability insurance, however, the insurance company won’t replace the vehicle.
For renters, Reid recommends taking out renters or condo insurance, which in some cases, provides coverage for your personal belongings and additional living expenses (such as long-term rentals or hotel stays).
Before you purchase a home, it’s important to determine its brush or FireLine score, a rating insurers use to determine the risk attached to the property. Brush or FireLine scores assess both individual risk factors and the overall wildlife hazard score, which is based on fuel conditions around the property.
Most companies aren’t insuring above a certain brush or Fireline score, and Reid recommends calling your agent or insurance carrier to determine the brush or Fireline score for your property.