Wildfires – those raging infernos we see on TV blazing through remote Western forests – are actually more common in populated areas than you might think. According to the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety, one-third of all U.S. homes are in developments with natural topography, trees and vegetation that are combustible (prone to burning) under the right conditions. 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 Mitigation Guides
Wildfire risks can vary from region to region. To help property owners better understand their risks and how to mitigate them, the Institute for Business and Home Safety developed these regional guides.
Central U.S. (IL, IN, IA, KS, KY, MO, NE, OH)
Great Lakes (MI, MN, WI)
Mid-Atlantic & Northeast (CT, DE, ME, MD, NH, NY, PA, RI, WV, VT, VA)
Pacific Northwest (ID, Northern CA, OR, WA)
Rocky Mountain (CO, MT, ND, SD, UT, WY)
Southeast (AL, AR, GA, MS, NC, SC, TN)
Southwest (AZ, NM, NV, OK, TX)
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.
A quick reference guide to creating defensible space and mitigating wildfire risk around your home or business.
Find out how a wildfire can ignite your home in a video from the US Forest Service.