Hope for the Best, Prepare for the Worst — Prevent Wildfire Damage

With summer right around the corner, now is a good time to prepare your property for the threat of wildfires. Most fires start small. If you are ready, you may be able to stop a fire from spreading. Be sure you know where the closest fire hydrant is, as well as your garden hoses and hose bibs. If you have a well that produces at least two gallons per minute, consider filling a 2000-gallon storage tank so it’s ready if you need it.

Clear flammable brush 100 feet from your home and trim trees 10 feet off the ground. Make sure tree limbs do not hang over your roof and clear any debris off your roof. If you have aboveground utilities in your neighborhood, keep an eye on electrical lines that go through trees—make sure there’s plenty of clearance. A good tip from the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources Department is to locate woodpiles and other fuel sources at least 30 feet from all structures and maintain a 10-foot clear area around them.

Unfortunately, even with all this preparation, your home can go up in flames. Just ask the families who returned to find ash where their houses used to be in Lake County in recent years. For insurance purposes, you should create a photo or video log of all your possessions. While tedious, it’ll be time well spent if you need an insurance company to pay a claim.

It’s important to know what your homeowners insurance covers, especially in light of a new clause included in some policies, called the brush warranty. The brush warranty says your insurance company won’t cover your home for wildfire damage if your home is within 100 or 200 feet (depending on policy) of brush vegetation, even if the brush is on someone else’s property. With the Valley Fire in 2015 and the Clayton Fire in 2016, insurance companies are doing their best to reduce the risk of huge payouts. If your policy is up for renewal, be sure to read the whole thing before signing it. As I’ve said before, “The big print giveth and the small print taketh away.”

Most renters hear the term “homeowners insurance” and assume it isn’t for them. They’re wrong. While they may not own the structure they’re living in, they have a home where everything except the structure can be covered by a homeowners policy. Much to some people’s surprise, homeowners insurance can cover everything from fire damage to the mailman slipping on your driveway.

When it comes time to buy insurance, I strongly urge you to go with a local agent who can walk you through the various options. When you buy an online policy, no one explains the details. The “deal” you think you’re getting may include a 200-foot brush warranty, for example. As I said, insurance companies are taking a hard look at rural Northern California. Certain areas in Mendocino County have “brush hazard scores” above 80 (on a 100-point scale). Anyone with property with a score in the mid-80s or higher is going to have a hard time finding affordable insurance.

While homeowners insurance is helpful after a disaster, it’s best to be prepared, because some items cannot be replaced. In addition to food, water, and medications for you and your pets, you’ll need clothing and, depending on the situation, you may need your own shelter for a while. You may also need fuel for your vehicle.

If you have time to pack more than the essentials, I recommend grabbing the irreplaceables: photo albums, family heirlooms and keepsakes, important documents, and if you can, your computer. For more information about disaster preparedness, go to www.ready.gov.  They have a wildfire safety toolkit, as well as many other resources.

If you have questions about real estate or property management, please contact me at rselzer@selzerrealty.com or visit www.realtyworldselzer.com. If I use your suggestion in a column, I’ll send you a $5.00 gift card to Schat’s Bakery. If you’d like to read previous articles, visit my blog at www.richardselzer.com. Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 40 years.