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Mitigating Property Damage from Wildfires

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Insurance claims for property damage from the California wildfires in 2018 topped $12 billion, according to the most recent estimates. This figure covers the fire that decimated the town of Paradise, which killed 86 people and destroyed nearly 19,000 buildings, and two other Southern California blazes.

Fires are a natural occurrence in California: Many of its ecosystems, from the chaparral of Southern California to the northern pine forests, evolved to burn frequently. Yet since the 1980s, the size and ferocity of the fires that sweep across the state have trended upward. Indeed 15 of the 20 largest fires in California history have occurred since 2000. A hotter and drier climate in the state is in part driving a trend toward larger fires, coupled with the fact that humans are building communities in wild land areas, increasing both the likelihood of fires and their devastation.

California is not the only state vulnerable to wildfires. Warmer temperatures and drought are also expected to increase wildfires in the Southeast.

There is, however, a bright spot in all of this. The majority (more than 95%) of the wildfires in California are controlled within the first 24 hours and contained to 10 or fewer acres. This means 5% of wildfires produce most of the devastation. With the help of technological advances, the goal is to mitigate the extent of loss that these 5% out-of-control fires produce. One of the principal reasons behind the lag time in controlling a fire is due to the lack of real-time information available to command stations and firefighters in the field. Currently, the information they receive is typically six to 12 hours old. New technology being developed by several companies is aimed at establishing a better predictive model and delivering real-time data to those in the field, including a fire’s movement, so that they can get to the burning areas faster. The insurance industry is a big proponent of this type of technology advancement in managing and mitigating potential risk.

In addition to technology strides being made in controlling property damage losses as a result of a devastating wildfire, homeowners and businesses need to take measures to mitigate their exposure. Here are some recommendations you can share with your homeowners clients in fire-prone areas:

  • Use non-combustible materials such as gravel, brick, or concrete adjacent to the home to maintain defensible space.
  • Maintain 6-inch ground-to-siding clearance, and consider non-combustible siding.
  • Regularly remove debris from the roof, since debris can be ignited by wind-blown embers.
  • Use Class A fire-rated roofing products, which offer the best protection for homes.
  • Keep debris out of gutters since debris can be ignited by wind-blown embers. If used, gutter covers should be non-combustible.
  • Use non-combustible fences and gates.
  • Keep embers out of eaves and vents.
  • Protect windows - use multi-pane, tempered glass windows, and close them when a wildfire threatens.
  • At a minimum, use deck boards that comply with requirements in new construction in wildfire-prone areas, remove combustibles under decks, and maintain effective defensible space.
  • Remove shrubs under trees, prune branches that overhang on the roof, thin trees, and remove dead vegetation. Move trailers/RVs and storage sheds from the area, or build defensible space around these items.

RPS provides homeowners insurance solutions including high-value homes and in catastrophe-prone areas. To find out more about our products, contact us.

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