Are You Protected From Wildfires?

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Facts about wildfire risk

The deadly destruction of a wildfire is not to be underestimated. Hard to contain, wildfires consume everything in their wake and wreak havoc on lives, landscapes and homes. Wildfires:

  • Occur in 38 states – California is the state most associated with wildfires and, in fact, eight of the 10 most costly wildfires in the U.S. have occurred there. That said, Texas has been known to have twice the wildfires as California in a given year and 38 of U.S. states have areas at risk.
  • Like dry conditions – Drought conditions, dry undergrowth and the presence of combustible and flammable materials contribute to wildfire hazard.
  • Are more dangerous in combination with development – The risk of damage increases as housing and business development expands into the wildfire-prone wildland-urban interface (WUI)—such as mountain, foothill or grassland areas.
  • Spread mostly on the wind – Direct flame contact and radiant heat from a wildfire can ignite combustible materials. However, research has shown that homes burned during wildfires most frequently catch fire from live embers (or “firebrands”) that are blown by the wind.
  • Thrive on house “togetherness” – Because of the dangers of the embers, close proximity of homes and presence of combustible features both increase the chances of a home going up in flames. Fire spreads rapidly when homes are less than 15 feet apart, making homes that are clustered near others more likely to burn. Features like fences and attached decks made from combustible materials often hasten the spread of fire.

Wildfire preventative building features

Wildfires need fuel to spread—like wood, plastic, wood-plastic products and foliage. Don’t help your house feed the flames—fit or retrofit your home with features that deter fire. The Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) and others have this advice:

  • Maintain five feet of non-combustible “defensible space” around your home – Keep a five-foot diameter space of gravel, brick, or concrete in the area adjacent to your home.
  • Maintain an expanded “defensible space” between five and 30 feet from your home – Keeping this area as unattractive to wildfires as possible will reduce the risk. Move trailers/RVs and storage sheds from area, or build defensible space (see above) around these items. Remove shrubs under trees, prune branches that overhang your roof, thin trees, and remove dead vegetation.
  • Use non-combustible siding – and maintain a six-inch ground-to-siding clearance
  • Regularly clean from your roof and gutters – to keep debris from being ignited by wind-blown embers. Use noncombustible gutter covers.
  • Get a Class A fire-rated roof – Class A roofing products offer the best protection for homes.
  • Use non-combustible fences and gates – Burning fencing can generate embers and cause direct flame contact to your home.
  • Cover vents and create soffited eaves – Use 1/8-inch mesh to cover vents, and box-in (create soffits) on open eaves to keep embers out.
  • Use multi-pane, tempered glass windows – Close windows when a wildfire threatens.
  • Fireproof the deck – At a minimum, use deck boards that comply with California requirements for new construction in wildfire-prone areas. Remove combustibles from under deck, and maintain effective defensible space around the deck.
  • Keep combustibles far away from the house – Combustible structures in the yard such as wood, plastic or plastic-wood playground equipment should be at least 30 feet away from the house. Experts indicate that evergreen trees, palms and eucalyptus trees have more combustible qualities than others—keep this type of vegetation 100 feet away from the house.

Tornado Tips

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Remember that a watch means that weather conditions are favorable for tornadoes and a warning means one has been spotted in your area.

  • Learn the warning signals used in your community. If a siren sounds, that means stay inside and take cover.
  • Consider setting up a neighborhood information program through a club, church group or community group. Hold briefings on safety procedures as tornado season approaches. Set up a system to make sure senior citizens and shut-ins are alerted if there is a tornado warning.

Seeking shelter

Do not try to outrun a tornado. Instead, stay calm and seek shelter.

  • At home or work, seek shelter in the central part of the building, away from windows. Basements are the best havens. If this is not an option, take cover in the bathroom, closet, interior hallway or under a heavy piece of furniture.
  • If you are in your car, abandon your vehicle and seek shelter in the nearest ditch if no other facility is available.
  • People living in mobile homes should vacate the premises and seek shelter elsewhere.

Protecting your property

  • If a tornado watch has been issued, move cars inside a garage or carport to avoid damage from hail that often accompanies tornadoes. Keep your car keys and house keys with you.
  • If time permits, move lawn furniture and yard equipment such as lawnmowers inside. Otherwise they could become damaged or act as dangerous projectiles causing serious injury or damage.
  • Make an inventory of your possessions and store it off the premises. If your belongings are damaged, this list will help facilitate the claim filing process.

2018 Atlantic Hurricane Forecast

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On Thursday April 5th Philip J. Klotzbach and Michael M. Bell, scientists with the Colorado State University, issued their 2018 Atlantic Hurricane Forecast. The forecast anticipates slightly above-average activity for the 2018 Atlantic basin hurricane season.

There is slightly above-average probability of a major hurricanes making landfall along the continental United States coastline and in the Caribbean.

Klotzbach and Bell estimate that 2018 will have 7 hurricanes (median is 6.5), 14 named storms (median is 12.0), 70 named storm days (median is 60.1), 30 hurricane days (median is 21.3), 3 major (Category 3-4-5) hurricane (median is 2.0) and 7 major hurricane days (median is 3.9). The probability of U.S. major hurricane landfall is estimated to be about 120 percent of the long-period average.

Probabilities for at least one major hurricane landfall on each of the following coastal areas:

  • Entire continental U.S. coastline – 63% (average for last century is 52%)
  • U.S. East Coast Including Peninsula Florida – 39% (average for last century is 31%)
  • Gulf Coast from the Florida Panhandle westward to Brownsville – 38% (average for last century is 30%)

As is the case with all hurricane seasons, coastal residents are reminded that it only takes one hurricane making landfall to make it an active season for them. They should prepare the same for every season, regardless of how much activity is predicted.

Click here for the full forecast.

Dr. Philip Klotzbach is a non-resident scholar for the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.)

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