May is Wildfire Awareness Month
According to the United States Drought Monitor, large swaths of Texas are experiencing some level of drought. As the grass turns dry and yellow, and trees and bushes become brittle, the potential for wildfire grows.
Texas experiences many wildfires across the state, from prairie fires in West Texas to forest fires in East Texas. The Bastrop County Complex Fire in September and October of 2011 was the most destructive wildfire in Texas history. The immense wildfire killed two people, destroyed over 1,600 homes, and resulted in $325 million in insured property losses. 2011 was an unusually dry year, and dry, windy conditions resulted in the ideal conditions for the massive fire to erupt, which scorched over 34,000 acres before it was finally extinguished.
With fires, most people think of their homeowners insurance. While insurance is there to provide financial security for your family, fire prevention and the prevention of damage to your home should be your top priority. And that prevention is mitigation. Insurance companies strongly recommend homeowners who live in wildfire areas mitigate the fire hazards on their property. It’s a proven method for reducing the risk to these homes.
Most Texas insurance consumers do not need special insurance for wildfires because this type of disaster is covered under the fire damage provisions of a basic homeowners policy. However, a common complaint after a disaster like a wildfire is that people didn’t have the right kind of insurance or enough of it. The insurance coverage you need depends upon many factors, including the type of home or building you own, its contents, and whether you have a home-based business.
What you can do:
- Understand your current homeowners policy: is it up-to-date and is the appropriate coverage for your home?
- If you have coverage that provides replacement costs, make sure that it actually covers the costs of rebuilding. Homeowners may want to consider purchasing extended replacement cost and/or ordinance and law coverage, which protect people in situations where the cost to rebuild exceeds replacement cost coverage.
- Be aware if “additional living expenses” coverage exists in your policy. If your home is damaged and uninhabitable, A.L.E. pays those expenses which are over and above your normal costs. For example, you would continue to pay your mortgage, but the insurance company would pay to rent a similar home while you were displaced.
- Contact your agent or company to review and ask questions about your policy.
- Use fire-resistant materials in the structure of your home, especially the roof, which is most vulnerable.
- Clear a safety zone around your home and remove trees, leaves, brush and pine needles. Create a zone of at least 100 feet, but know that 200 – 500 feet is often recommended. Also remove overhanging tree branches near your home.
- Be sure propane or fuel tanks are at least 30 feet away from all structures.
- Keep the smoke detectors and fire extinguishers inside your home working properly.
- Make sure your garden hoses reach all areas of the property, and keep them visible and in accessible areas.
- If you’re in a rural area, be sure your entrance road is accessible. Inaccessible roads can prevent fire-fighting equipment from reaching your home quickly. The street address should be easily visible from the entrance to the property so emergency responders are not delayed.
- Reviewing your policy and creating a home inventory. It helps in identifying losses after a disaster, and can also help you determine how much homeowners insurance you need. Understand your policy type - Actual cash value (ACV) policies cover only what the property is worth at the time it is damaged, minus the deductible. Replacement cost policies initially pay the ACV, minus the deductible, but once the property is replaced, will also pay the difference between the actual cash value and the replacement cost. Your policy should also take into account the cost of cleanup, especially after a wildfire.
- Coverage limits need to keep up - Review your policy and coverage limits annually to make sure it keeps pace with construction costs.
- Update - Keep your insurance agent or company updated on any changes to your home that will impact the coverage.
United States Drought Monitor shows current drought conditions across the state
The Texas A&M Forest Service posts updates on active wildfires and efforts to extinguish those fires
The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC), offers a downloadable home inventory sheet and/or a downloadable app for home inventory.
The Texas Department of Insurance has a resource page on fire and safety