Insurance

Wildfires and your insurance: Your guide to protecting your home

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On average more than 2,500 homes are destroyed in the United States each year due to wildfires. Nearly 72 million homes are at risk of being damaged by wildfires, and more than 4.5 million homes are considered high or extreme risk

If we were going to declare an official wildfire season in the United States, it would be June through August. During this time the largest number of wildfires occur, which makes sense given the normally hotter, drier conditions of summer. However, in 2022, with June just beginning, we’ve already seen 28,046 wildfires, which have burned almost 2 million acres. 

The National Interagency Fire Center Predictive Services department released their outlook for the summer of 2022, and they predict above average fire potential in much of the West, Great Plains, Southwest and Hawaii. 

If you live in an area potentially affected by wildfires, we’ve published some tips to help protect your home and property. In this article, though, we’re specifically looking at wildfires and your insurance: Are you covered? Is your coverage enough? What steps should you take if affected by a wildfire?

The National Interagency Fire Center Predictive Services department predicts above average fire potential in much of the West, Great Plains, Southwest and Hawaii in 2022.

Does homeowners insurance protect against wildfires?

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The short answer is: yes. Typical homeowners insurance does include fire — including wildfire — as a covered peril. That means if your house is damaged by a fire your insurance will cover the cost to repair or rebuild the home, replace belongings and potentially pay for temporary housing if your house is uninhabitable. 

Your dwelling coverage covers the cost of repairing or replacing your house; other structures coverage will cover replacing or repairing unattached buildings like sheds or structures like fences; and personal property coverage will cover your personal property including furniture, electronics, clothes, etc. Other structures and personal property coverage limits are usually a percentage of the dwelling coverage which should be the amount it will actually cost to replace your house.

With lumber prices and labor shortages, the cost of building (or rebuilding) a house has skyrocketed in recent years. Now may be a good time to review your home insurance to make sure your dwelling coverage policy limits are keeping up with the actual cost of replacement. If the cost to repair or replace your house exceeds your policy limits, you may be stuck paying the difference.

Does living in a wildfire prone area increase insurance costs?

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Naturally, living in a geographic area where your home is at a high risk of wildfire, will likely increase the premium you pay for coverage. After all, the insurance company is taking a greater risk by insuring your home. In addition to charging a higher deductible, some insurance companies decline to write policies for homes in particularly high-risk areas.

Insurance companies use a number of variables to calculate the risk of wildfire including:

  • Slope and elevation (the steeper the slope, the faster a fire can spread)
  • Aspect (the cardinal direction, for example, southerly slopes are often more fertile ground for wildfire spread)
  • Fuel (types of plant life and their density)
  • Surface composition (burn history and frequency)

If you live in the western part of the United States, there’s a good chance your property has a FireLine score attached to it that insurance companies will use to evaluate your rate.

If you are unable to find an insurance carrier in your area that will cover you due to the risk of wildfires, and have been rejected from a number of carriers, research your state’s FAIR Plan as a last resort. 

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How else can you protect your home from wildfires?

The phrase is “spread like wildfire” for a reason — once they light wildfires are very good at covering ground. Wind and dry conditions can really get them going, but they also need something to burn. 

One way you can protect your home is to provide as little fuel as possible. Remove vegetation including brush, shrubs and small trees in a perimeter around the home and any outbuildings and structures. Make sure large trees don’t have branches overhanging your roof.

What do you do if your home is impacted by a wildfire?

Obviously, if a wildfire is threatening your property, the first thing to do is evacuate to safety. However, when it is safe to return to the home, it’s important that you contact your insurance agent as soon as possible to assess the damage. You will also want to document everything. Don’t throw anything away, and take pictures of all the damage.

Understand the claims process and follow all instructions from your agent. Some insurance companies may require you to submit repair estimates, while others might not. 

As this year’s wildfire season starts to ramp up, it’s important to take the steps necessary to make sure your insurance is up to date and able to protect your home should the unthinkable happen.

Update your home inventory

If you’re reading this before a fire has occurred, this is your reminder to make a thorough inventory of your home and belongings and keep it current.

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Susan MeyerSenior Editorial Manager

Susan is a licensed insurance agent and has worked as a writer and editor for over 10 years across a number of industries. She currently specializes in producing research-focused content for The Zebra's resource center on topics related to auto and home insurance, personal finance and smarter living in the 21st century.