The wildfires in Northern California have been the deadliest cluster of fires in California history – causing many to lose their lives, possessions and even their homes.
Now that fires are being contained, some residents are returning home to face the prospect of destroyed or damaged properties.
And while there is nothing that remove the possibility of lasting emotional damage, there are some ways homeowners can recover their physical assets.
These tips and resources may be helpful to homeowners that have been affected by the recent wildfires or those who wish to take precautionary steps.
Checking Your Home
- Contact your insurance agent and ask them what they want you to do first.
- Before returning home, check with the fire department to make sure your residence is safe to enter.
- Once cleared, inspect the outside of your home before you enter. Look for loose power lines, broken or damaged gas lines, foundation cracks or other damage. If you see damage on the outside, it could indicate that the inside of your home is seriously unsafe.
- If there is no significant visible outside damage, then check inside. If the door is jammed, do not force it open since it may be providing support to the structure of your home.
- Sniff for gas. If you detect the odor of natural or propane gas, or hear a hissing noise, leave the property immediately and get well away from it. At this point, call the fire department immediately.
- Beware of animals, such as rodents, snakes, spiders and insects, that may have entered your home. As you inspect your home, tap loudly and often on the floor with a stick to give notice that you are there. Animals will move away if you make your presence known.
- Check the ceiling and floor for signs of sagging. If you notice any signs of damage, avoid walking underneath or on top of the damage.
*Remember to take photographs of the damage. You may need these to substantiate insurance claims later.
Drinking Water and Septic Systems
Homeowners returning to their sites should have the water tested at a certified environmental testing laboratory to ensure the water is safe. You will want the laboratory to test for total coliform bacteria.
The water should only be used for showering and flushing toilets while waiting for test results. Use bottled water for drinking, brushing teeth or cooking.
- Make sure that the contractor rebuilding your home obtains a building permit and follows the current building, fire and electrical codes your area.
- Install smoke alarms inside each sleeping room, hallway outside sleeping areas and at least one on every floor of your home.
Image via Cal Fire
A minimum defensible space zone of 100 feet, consisting of a 30-foot lean clean and green zone and a 70-foot reduced fuel zone is required by California law.
Selecting Firewise Plants
When selecting plants, make sure that they are low growing, open structured, and less resinous. Cultural practices and landscaping management (pruning, irrigation and cleanup) have a greater impact on whether or not a plant ignites than does the species. When choosing plants for a fire safe landscape, select those with the following characteristics:
- High moisture content in leaves
- Little or no seasonal accumulation of dead vegetation
- Open branching habits
- Fewer total branches and leaves
- Slow growing, so less pruning is required
- Nonresinous material on the plant (stems, leaves or needles that are resinous, oily or waxy)
Fire climbs neighboring trees like a ladder. To reduce the chance of fire climbing a tree, remove lower tree limbs 6 to 15 feet from the ground (or the lower third of branches on smaller trees). Also, make sure to increase the spacing between plants since fire spreads on the ground from plant to plant and to your home.
Where to Plant
Avoid putting plants in the following locations to minimize the movement of fire from vegetation to the home:
- Adjacent to the siding
- Under vents or eaves
- Tree limbs over the roof
- Under or near the deck
Before wildfire strikes, it is important that you get set. Prepare yourself and your home for the possibility of having to evacuate. There are three main preparation actions that should be completed and familiar to all members of your household long in advance of a wildfire.
- Create a Wildfire Action Planthat includes evacuation planning for your home, family and pets.
- Assemble an Emergency Supply Kit for each person in your household.
- Fill-out a Family Communication Planthat includes important evacuation and contact information.
There are many other emotional and physical aspects to a recovery. Click here for more information on recovering from and preventing a wildfire.