In 2020 alone, nearly 59,000 wildfires were reported across the United States, which raged through 10.1 million acres of land, destroying nearly 18,000 homes and other buildings, resulting in billions of dollars in damages.
Every year, the number and scope of wildfires grows, leaving more and more people vulnerable to the financial, physical, and emotional devastation. According to Science.org, humans are responsible for 84% of wildfires in the United States.
If you’re a homeowner in one of the high-risk areas for wildfires (Alaska, California, Oregon, Idaho, and Texas), you’ll want to fully understand when and how your homeowners insurance coverage can protect you in the event a wildfire rolls through your area.
Is wildfire fire damage covered by homeowners insurance?
A basic HO3 policy includes the following types of coverage that might come in handy in the event of a wildfire:
1. Your house, or in insurance lingo, dwelling
Referred to as dwelling coverage, this covers you from the financial burden of damages to your home. If a wildfire were to damage or destroy your home, your dwelling coverage would kick in to repair or replace the structure of your home (depending on your coverage limits, and minus your deductible, of course).
2. Other structures on your property
Things like your driveway, fences, sheds, unattached garages, and other structures on your property are also covered from damage and destruction from wildfires by your home insurance policy.
3. Your personal property
Personal property coverage refers to the stuff you own, your personal belongings.
Your homeowners insurance has your back whether your stuff is at home, or anywhere else. If your stuff is damaged by smoke from a wildfire, personal property coverage will likely cover the costs to clean or replace it with something comparable.
If you think some of your valuables—clothing, furniture, electronics, etc.—is damaged beyond repair, and you want to file a claim to replace it, don’t throw anything away! Wait until an adjuster can inspect your stuff, so your policy can actually kick in to replace it.
P.S.: There may be sub-limits on certain valuable things like jewelry and artwork: make sure to get extra coverage for them, or in insurance lingo, schedule your personal property when buying your policy.
4. Additional living expenses
If your place becomes uninhabitable due to fire or smoke, or if there’s a mandatory evacuation in your area, then you might be covered under something called “loss of use,” and your insurance company may help pay for additional expenses related to temporarily needing to leave your home.
This can include an Airbnb or hotel room, as well as helping pay for additional basic living expenses such as food, laundry, pet boarding expenses, and parking until your home is safe to return to.
5. Personal liability
Personal liability means that if someone gets injured on your property and it’s your fault, or you/anyone named on your policy causes damage to someone else’s property or stuff, your insurance company should have you covered. This coverage probably isn’t so relevant in the event of a wildfire, but it’s good to keep in mind anyway.
Help protect your home from wildfires
Fire-proof your roof
When it comes to wildfires, your roof is your first line of defense. If your roof were to catch on fire, your whole home would be enveloped in flames in minutes.
Make sure your roof is made out of a fire-resistant material like asphalt, metal, slate, or tile—not wood. If you have wood shingles, you can coat them with a flame retardant finish, but this is not going to be a foolproof solution against wildfire.
Regularly clear away dead leaves, brush, and debris from your roof and gutters. Dry material is perfect kindling for falling embers, and can accelerate the spread of fire. Also, be sure to replace missing and broken shingles to keep embers out of your home. Proper roof maintenance year-round could make all the difference when it really matters.
Seal your home off from the outside
If you’ve ever enjoyed a fireplace or gathered around a campfire, you know what embers are. They are the super-hot pieces of burning wood or coal that glow as the fire dies down. These beautiful embers turn menacing when they enter your home and start a fire from the inside.
During wildfire season (roughly May-October) make sure to cover outdoor vents with ⅛ thick hardware cloth and seal off doggy doors to prevent embers from entering your home.
Install fire-resistant windows
Heat from a wildfire can melt plastic skylights and can cause windows to crack or even burst. Consider replacing your single-paned windows with a double-paned variety, ideally made from tempered glass, to increase their chances of standing up to wildfire temperatures.
Clear your property
Fires are hungry, and can be fed by anything that’s lying around near your place. Remove stacks of wood, bags of coal, and propane tanks from the perimeter of your house.
That building project you’ve been working on in your backyard? Be sure to clear away materials every time, especially during wildfire season.
Keep in mind that anything organic strewn around your home is fuel for the flames—like piles of leaves or mulch. Pine needles and juniper leaves contain highly flammable oils and resins, so if you have these trees on your property, be sure to regularly clear away fallen leaves and brush.
While fallen leaves and scattered debris can fuel fire, well-watered vegetation is actually a decent line of defense from flames. You heard that right: A healthy garden can actually help keep embers away from your home.
Before we go…
As wildfires spread across greater swaths of the country, and the wildfire season gets longer every year, it’s important for homeowners in wildfire-prone areas to be prepared and prioritize their safety. Understanding your homeowners insurance coverage can give you some much needed peace of mind in the face of natural disasters.
Learn more about protecting yourself, your home, and your community from wildfires with resources from the National Fire Protection Association.