President Joseph Biden’s approval last week of a major disaster declaration for New Mexico gave new urgency to the importance of May’s Wildfire Awareness Month, according to the Insurance Information Institute (Triple-I).
"The U.S. has incurred a significant loss of life and property damage over the past five years due to wildfires and drought conditions across the Western U.S. are expected to continue throughout 2022," said Sean Kevelighan, CEO, Triple-I. "During national Wildfire Awareness Month, everyone who lives in a wildfire-prone community should make sure they have adequate financial protection for their property and possessions while also taking steps to make their home or business more resilient to the impacts of wildfire."
Most Southwestern U.S. states as well as northern California are expected to have above normal significant fire potential in May and June, with the potential for wildfires increasing in Colorado and southern portions of the Great Basin (e.g., Utah and Nevada) this month and next before returning to normal in July, according to the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC). The NIFC envisions wildfire risks will rise in July and August in Oregon and Washington.
The Triple-I’s four key wildfire preparedness tips include:
Review Your Insurance Coverage. Make sure you have the right type â€“ and amount â€“ of property insurance. Triple-I recommends you conduct an annual insurance review of your policy(ies) with your insurance professional.
"With most of the U.S. experiencing double-digit percentage increases in home replacement costs this year due to the higher prices for construction materials and labor, ask your insurance professional if you have the right amount of insurance coverage to rebuild or repair your home, to replace its contents, and to cover temporary living expenses if your property is uninhabitable," Kevelighan said.
The best place to start the review process is by reading the declarations page of an insurance policy. It offers details on how much coverage you have, your deductibles, and how a claim will be paid.
Damage caused by fire and smoke is covered under standard homeowners and renters insurance policies. A standard homeowners insurance policy covers wildfire-caused property damage to a home’s structure and its outbuildings (e.g., garage) as well as the personal belongings housed on the premises. A renter’s insurance policy covers the renter’s personal belongings. Water damage caused by firefighters extinguishing a fire is covered under both homeowners and renters insurance policies.
Standard homeowners and renters insurance policies also provideâ€¯additional living expensesâ€¯(ALE), sometimes referred to as loss of use, to policyholders who either relocated because of a mandatory evacuation order or had their residence rendered uninhabitable due to wildfire-related damage.
In addition, the Triple-I has claims-filing tips online forâ€¯homeownersâ€¯andâ€¯renters insuranceâ€¯policyholders.
Protect Your Vehicles. Comprehensive auto, which is an optional coverage, protects your vehicle
against damage caused by an incident other than a collision, including fire, flood, theft, vandalism, hail, falling rocks or trees, and other hazards. Nearly 80 percent of U.S. drivers opt to purchase comprehensive coverage.
Make Sure Your Possessions are Adequately Protected. Residents need to assess the out-of-pocket cost of repurchasing their damaged furniture, electronics, clothing, and other personal possessions after a wildfire. Whether you have homeowners insurance, condo insurance or renters insurance, your policy provides protection against loss or damage to personal property due to a wildfire.
Creating an inventory of your belongings and their value will make it easier to determine if you are sufficiently insured for either the replacement cost or the actual cash value of the items situated at your residence. When you create a photo or video of your home’s possessions, it expedites the insurance claims process if you sustain damage from a wildfire.
Make Your Property More Resilient. Invest in items that will harden your property using the Insurance Institute For Business and Safety (IBHS) wildfire ready guide to make your home resistant to wildfire, such as vents, roofs and windows. Triple-I also recommends those living and working in wildfire-prone communities follow the advice of Firewise USA.
Research shows risks can be lessened when residents invest time in preparing their homes and landscaping to reduce the damage caused by embers during a wildfire. Projects can range from a short time commitment up to those requiring an entire day and include:
Raking and removing pine needles and dry leaves within a minimum of three to five feet of a home’s foundation, continuing up to a 30-foot distance around the home, and disposing of collected debris in appropriate trash receptacles
Clearing roofs and gutters of dead leaves, debris, and pine needles that could catch embers
Collecting downed tree limbs and broken branches and taking them to a disposal site
Screening or boxing-in areas below patios and decks with wire mesh to prevent debris and combustible materials from accumulating
Moreover, Triple-I’s Resilience Accelerator uses advanced data analytics to create tools that empower residents, businesses, and policymakers to build more resilient communities. It also demonstrates the power of insurance as a force for resilience by telling the story of how insurance coverage helps communities recover faster and more completely after a natural disaster.
Insurance Information Institute
With more than 60 insurance company members — including regional, super-regional, national and global carriers — the Triple-I is the #1 online source for insurance information. Our sole focus is creating and disseminating information to empower consumers. We neither lobby nor sell insurance. We provide objective, fact-based information about insurance — information that is rooted in economic and actuarial soundness.