By: Josh Cahill
The damage caused by wildfires can be devastating. Every year, as wildfires leave millions of acres of land burned and thousands of structures destroyed, homeowners are caught unprepared. May is Wildfire Awareness Month and The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) encourages everyone to take the time to prepare their homes and their families for wildfires, so they aren't left sifting through the ashes.
Disasters like wildfires can make us feel powerless. While we can't control when a dry patch of brush bursts into flames after being struck by lightning, homeowners can take many different precautions to protect their homes when wildfire season is in full swing.
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) offers these tips for homeowners looking to avoid being the source of a wildfire:
- Keeping areas like gutters, porches, patios and decks free of leaves and tree branches provides less fuel for potential fires.
- Make sure that flammable materials like stacks of firewood and propane tanks are kept 30 feet or more from a home's foundation and surrounding structures such as sheds, gazebos, and garages.
- Wildfires are great tree climbers. By pruning tree branches, flames won't have a chance to reach treetops and take the destruction to another level.
- Keep your lawn hydrated and maintained. If it is brown, cut it down to reduce fire intensity. Dry grass and shrubs feed wildfires.
The NFPA also suggests assembling an emergency supply kit that contains important documents, medications, and personal identification. They suggest keeping it somewhere easily accessible and safe. Emergency evacuation plans can also provide homeowners with peace of mind during wildfire season. Develop an evacuation plan for when a wildfire reaches your neighborhood and practice it with your family. Be sure to identify at least two easily remembered routes out of your neighborhood and set a meeting place for family members to re-group should anyone be split up from the group.
Wildfire preparedness means more than protecting your house from the physical dangers of a fire. There are also ways to make sure you are taken care of financially in the wake of a wildfire. One of the most important steps you can take is to review your homeowners insurance policy. Make sure your policy is up to date and if you have recently moved, make sure your policy covers the home you currently live in.
Also be sure to make changes to your policy that reflect any upgrades or additions you may have added to your home in the time since you purchased it. Don't forget to ask your insurer if your policy also covers building materials used by contractors and other damage repair providers as they fix up your home.
In the aftermath of a wildfire, shady contractors make their way into neighborhoods, looking to take advantage of traumatized and distracted disaster victims. While most contractors are reputable and honest, some aren't and NICB offers these tips to help homeowners avoid being scammed:
- If you didn't request it, reject it. Be wary of anyone door to door salespeople making their way through neighborhoods offering unsolicited repairs to your home during relief efforts.
- Research any contractors you come across. Check the Better Business Bureau or state attorney general’s office to see if the firm has any outstanding complaints.
- Never pay for work up front. Don’t pay for anything until you have talked to your insurer and have a written contract that clearly details important information such as prices for labor and materials, as well clean-up procedures and estimated start and finish dates.
For more information on disaster fraud, click here.
If you have been approached by a contractor after a wildfire or have seen them in your area, call the National Insurance Crime Bureau at 800.TEL.NICB or fill out our online form.