Homeowner's Guide to Wildfires
Every year, from June to November, wildfires threaten California's land and structures. When one comes knocking, homeowners are forced to evacuate and hope their home is spared from the fire's fury. Below are some of the resources available and a few steps that owners can take to minimize the risk and protect their property from the event of a wildfire.
When a wildfire breakouts, California turns to the men and women of CAL FIRE. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, better known as CAL FIRE, is made up of dedicated firefighters who protect over 31 million acres of California's privately-owned wildlands. In addition to CAL FIRE’s efforts in preventing and fighting wildfires, they contract with local governments to provide varied emergency services in 38 counties across the state.
CAL FIRE's mission emphasizes the management and protection of California's natural resources, including the prevention and protection against wildfires and other natural disasters. They accomplish through the implementation of extensive prevention protocols and programs that include wildland pre-fire engineering, vegetation management, fire planning, education, and law enforcement.
They also encourage homeowners to take proactive steps to protect their homes before a wildfire breaks out. The two main measures are Home Hardening and Home Defense.
There are three major ways your home can be exposed to wildfire:
- Direct flames from a wildfire or burning neighboring home
- Radiant heat from nearby burning plants or structures
- Flying embers
The latter, flying embers, is the most unpredictable as “embers from a wildfire can destroy homes up to a mile away and are responsible for the destruction of most homes during a wildfire.” Protecting your home from wildfires lies in taking the necessary measures to harden (prepare) your home. Hardening your home can help minimize your home's vulnerabilities when exposed to fire and increase its likelihood of its survival.
From using fire resistant building materials to retrofitting existing elements of your home, homeowners, especially those in rural areas, should inspect their homes and make the necessary updates to it.
Below are 3 useful resources listed on CAL FIRE's website to help harden your home.
- Low-cost Retrofit List
- Wildfire Home Retrofit Guide
- Take our Wildfire Survey to get a custom checklist
We also encourage homeowners to review CAL FIRE's information on home hardening and do what they can to protect their property.
Source: ReadyForWildfire.org ©2019 CAL FIRE, "Hardening Your Home"
When it comes to wildfire preparedness, "the best offense is a good defense."
In conjunction with hardening your home, creating a defensible space and understanding defensible zones will aid in the protection of your home and will increase the likelihood of your home surviving a wildfire.
What is defensible space?
According to CAL FIRE, “defensible space is the buffer you create between a building on your property and the grass, trees, shrubs, or any wildland area that surrounds it.” This space is essential in slowing or stopping the spread of wildfire and provides a benefit to firefighters by allowing them a safe area to work in to defend your home. When you think of defensible space think about keeping it clean and green.
Within the defensible space around your property, there are 3 defensible zones within the 100 foot radius of your property. Only Zone 1 and Zone 2 are shown on the diagram because those two currently required by law. Zone 0, which is often considered the most important law, will be required by law in 2023.
Landscape Spacing & Design
In addition to the defensible space zones, there are other measures that should be taken when protecting your home from a wildfire. Proper plant and tree spacing is crucial when considering the defensible space around your home. To use a term we all became familiar with in 2020, trees and plants should be "social distanced." Instead of preventing germs from spreading, properly distancing trees and plants will make it so that fire cannot easily jump from one to another.
Fire Resistant Landscaping
Fire-resistant landscaping has become popular amongst homeowners in California due to consistent, yearly wildfires that engulf more acres and structures each year. In conjunction with hardening your home and creating and defining defensible space and zones, incorporating fire-resistant landscaping adds an additional layer of protection. Fire-resistant landscaping isn't a substitute for proper yard maintenance and homeowners will still have to ensure their landscaping is clean and green and properly spaced in their defensible zones.
If you're planning on landscaping your yard, talk to the experts at your local nursery, consult your landscape contractor, or contact your county's UC Cooperative Extension for information and advice on advice on fire-resistant plants that will thrive in your area.
- Remove all tree branches at least 6 feet from the ground.
- Allow extra vertical space between shrubs and trees. Lack of vertical space can allow a fire to move from the ground to the brush to the
treetops like a ladder. This leads to more intense fire closer to your home.
- To determine the proper vertical spacing between shrubs and the lowest branches of trees, use the formula below.
Many local governments have implemented more stringent ordinances regarding defensible space and weed abatement. For example, San Diego County requires that the Zone 1 defensible space extend 50 feet from buildings. Homeowners should abide by any local ordinances as the State's requirements are considered the minimum standard.
El Dorado County, Nevada City, and Yuba County are just a few municipalities in the Sacramento Valley that have local ordinances. You can search the list of statewide municipal codes here or you can check with your local fire department/fire protection district.
If you are forced to evacuate you may only have a few moments notice before you're forced to leave. Having a plan will help you grab what's important and keep you clear-headed in a stressful situation.
Source: CALIFORNIA ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®, 2021
California FAIR Plan
The California FAIR Plan Association is available to homeowners who are unable to find insurance in the traditional marketplace. It offers basic property coverage when it’s needed, ensuring that all Californians, including those who live in areas threatened by wildfire, have access to the fire coverage and the peace of mind they deserve.
More Insurance Information
Home Sales & Wildfires
Yep, there's a disclosure for that
In the last decade, there have been new real estate disclosures introduced regarding drought, Kitec Piping, and, of course, COVID-19. Joining the ranks is a new disclosure introduced in 2021 called "Fire Hardening and Defensible Space Advisory, Disclosure and Addendum.
The disclosure goes through hardening and defensible space. It also asks the seller if the property is in a high or very high severity zone. Furthermore, the seller can disclosure any none vulnerabilities and mark if they are aware of any local ordinances.
The limit with this disclosure (as with all seller disclosures) is that the seller only needs to disclose what they know. If they aren't aware of the severity, vulnerabilities, or local ordinances, it doesn't mean the home is free from the threat of wildfires. We always encourage buyers to verify any and all information. Buyers can start by checking CAL FIRE's Fire Hazard Security Zone Map to see if the property is located in a higher risk zone. They can also reach out to their local fire districts regarding any ordinances and have an inspection to see if the defensible space meets the minimum standards.
Inspections may take up to 14 days and could cost up to $600 depending on the local jurisdiction. Inspections are good for 6 months.
If you're buying a home in a higher risk fire zone, rural property, and/or acreage, be sure to contact your insurance agent ASAP. Find out if they offer coverage on the property you're interested in as soon as you enter escrow.
Check in with your agent as the close date approaches to make sure nothing has changed.
Some insurance companies will let you pre-pay. You can pay for the policy before close of escrow. Often times, this lets you lock in the rate and the coverage. A lot of things can change in 30 days and it wouldn't be unheard of for an insurance company to stop offering coverage in a given are due to increased risk. Ask your agent if this is an option for you.
If your insurance company doesn't offer fire insurance, apply for a policy through the California FAIR Plan.
If you're selling in a known high or very high fire hazard severity zone, it may be in your best interest to have a defensible space inspection done up front. We often advise our sellers to do home, pest, and roof inspections upfront (before we even list the home). This makes the escrow go faster and smoother as buyers. A defensible space inspection is good for 6 months and may help ease buyers' potential anxieties.
Sellers can also perform a self-assessment. You will have a greater understanding of how Defensible Space and Home Hardening can help save your home from the effects of devastating wildfires. Click here to take the assessment.
©2021 The information on this page has been pulled directly from CAL Fire's website and/or other sources. This is meant to be a guide only and we highly encourage homeowners to do their own research and investigations for wildfire preparedness. All information is deemed reliable, but not guaranteed. Homeowners should visit CAL Fire's website for the most up to date information.
Your Resource Through Thick and Thin, Ups and Downs.
The Bishop Real Estate Group, RE/MAX Gold
All information deemed reliable but not guaranteed. This information was supplied by MLS, Seller, and/or other sources. Broker believes this information to be correct, but has not verified this information and assumes no legal responsibility for its accuracy. Buyers should investigate to their own satisfaction.
Copyright 2018 RE/MAX, LLC. If you have a brokerage relationship with another agency, this is not intended as a solicitation. Equal Housing Opportunity Provider. Each office is independently owned and operated. RE/Max Gold Lic. #01215931