wildfire emergency tips

According to the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety, 4.5 million U.S. homes were identified at high or extreme risk of wildfire, with more than 2 million in California alone. In recent years, many homes in these areas have become casualties of out-of-control wildfires. That’s why wildfire preparedness is so important.

Check out our tips for reducing your risk from wildfires, then follow the additional wildfire preparedness suggestions below to help keep your home & family safe.

Before a wildfire happens

If you’re building a home, use fire-resistant building materials. And remember that houses situated fewer than 15 feet apart are at higher risk from wildfires.

  • Cover attic, eave and sub-floor vents with noncombustible screening.
  • Seal the open edges of a barrel tile roof with grout to keep embers from blowing in.
  • Install tempered glass or multilayered glazed panels in exterior windows, glass doors and skylights.
  • Avoid landscaping with combustible bark and wood-chip mulch.
  • Plant native, fire-resistant vegetation whenever possible.
  • Keep grass cut short and the 30-foot area around your home well watered.
  • Remove all dry grass, brush, trees and dead leaves within at least 100 feet from your home.
  • Store firewood and fuel sources at least 30 feet downhill from any structure. Better yet, store them uphill if possible.

When there’s a wildfire

If you’re warned of an approaching wildfire or see one coming, round up your family to be sure everyone is accounted for, then:

  • Remove flammable materials like trash, furniture and vehicles from around your home.
  • Shut off the gas.
  • Be ready to soak roofs, shrubs and trees with water if they’re within 15 feet of buildings.
  • Close all windows and doors, and remove window coverings such as curtains or blinds.
  • Fill pools, hot tubs, garbage cans or other large containers with water.
  • Disconnect automatic garage door openers so if the power goes out, you can still open the door.
  • Keep an eye on news reports so you know the overall situation.
  • Keep lights on for visibility in smoky conditions. Distribute flashlights.
  • If you must leave, follow routes dictated by local officials. Wildfires can quickly change directions and your planned escape route may be blocked.

If you’re in a car

  • Roll up the windows and close the air vents.
  • If you need to run the air, do it in “re-circulate” mode and keep the vents closed. If you let outside air in the car, the temperature will rise and smoke or sparks could enter.
  • Drive slowly with the headlights on.
  • If you have to stop, turn the engine off but keep the headlights on. Get on the floor, and cover up with a blanket.

If you’re outside in the open

  • Go somewhere that has less fuel for the fire such as the backside of a mountain. Avoid canyons and topographic saddles.
  • If you’re close to a road, lie down in a ditch and cover yourself with anything that can protect you from the heat.

After a wildfire

  • Don’t return home until you’re told it’s safe to do so.
  • Check roofs and attics for hot spots or sparks and extinguish them immediately. Continue checking every few hours for a day.
  • Use caution when entering a building and avoid all standing water. It may have an electrical charge.
  • Check over all utilities and consult a professional if damage has occurred.

More wildfire resources

Regional wildfire safety and risk management guides

Wildfire risks can vary from region to region due to variations in topography, climate and vegetation. To help property owners better understand their risks, the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety developed the following guides to help property owners assess their wildfire risk:

Cost Estimate Guide

The checklist below will help you assess the vulnerability of your property and its surroundings to wildfire. After you assess your risk, use the action and cost sections prioritize ways to protect your home or business.

Wildfire Cost & Action Guide

Wildfire Brochures

If you’re building a home, use fire-resistant building materials. And remember that houses situated fewer than 15 feet apart are at higher risk from wildfires.A quick reference guide to creating defensible space and mitigating wildfire risk around your home or business.

Wildfire Video

Find out how wildfire embers can ignite your home in a video from the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety.

Nationwide offers this information to help you make decisions that may help you mitigate your risk. Of course, we can’t address every possible risk or guarantee these tips will work for you. However, we hope that you will consider which of these may help you in your efforts to protect your family and yourself.

Arranging for repairs

  • If your property sustains storm damage, you will likely need a contractor and/or roofer to make repairs.
  • For repairs, select one from our On Your Side® Property Repair Network or you’re free to find your own contractor. Contact your claims associate for additional information.
  • Most contractors are honest, but some use fraudulent practices. Here are some tips to help avoid contractor fraud:
    • Watch for high pressure sales tactics: Be wary of a contractor that shows up unannounced or tries to rush you to make a “now-or-never” decision.
    • Use only licensed and insured contractors: Check with the Better Business Bureau (bbb.org) and verify they are licensed in your area.
    • Don’t sign an incomplete contract: Never sign a contract with blank spaces or one that is otherwise incomplete.
    • Submit the claim yourself: Contractor’s shouldn’t submit insurance claims on your behalf.
    • Only pay after the work is finished: Never pay or sign completion agreements until all the work has been completed.
  • If you suspect contractor fraud, contact local law enforcement, call the National Insurance Crime Bureau at 1-800-TEL-NICB, or call the FEMA disaster fraud hotline at 1-866-720-5721.

Insurance terms, definitions and explanations are intended for informational purposes only and do not in any way replace or modify the definitions and information contained in individual insurance contracts, policies or declaration pages, which are controlling. Such terms and availability may vary by state and exclusions may apply.