As the East Coast braces itself for hurricanes and the Midwest hunkers down against tornadoes, the West is facing its biggest summer threat — wildfires.

But despite growing concern over extreme weather events, an Esurance survey found that the vast majority of us are ill-prepared for them.

With that in mind, here are a few things you can do to protect yourself, your family, and your property against wildfires.

Remember, the tips below are general suggestions. To best keep yourself and your home safe, consult with an expert in order to create a plan made specifically for your home.

Preparing for wildfire season

Protect your home

Though wildfires themselves can be hard to control, there’s a lot you can do to help make your home wildfire safe. Because houses usually ignite due to windborne embers, rather than the heat from the flames themselves, it’s important to create a defensible space around your house and select your building materials carefully.

  • Make sure your roof and home exterior — including decks and fences — are built using fire-resistant materials or treated with flame retardants
  • Cover your attic and foundation vents with 1/8-inch mesh metal screens or install ember-resistant vents
  • Create a safety zone at least 30 feet wide around your house (100 feet, if your home is in a pine forest). Within this safety zone you should:
    • Remove all dead leaves, twigs, and combustible vegetation
    • Plant shrubs and trees that are resistant to fire
    • Keep your roof, deck/patio, and gutters free of debris and remove vines from walls
    • Trim branches that extend over your roof or near chimney outlets
    • Keep lawns trimmed and remove tree branches within 6 to 10 feet of the ground
    • Move any flammable items such as lawn furniture away from your home
    • Keep propane tanks and firewood at least 30 feet from any structures
    • Clear a 10-foot space around your grill
    • Create spaces between trees (clusters of 2 to 3 should be 30 feet apart, and individual trees 20 feet apart)
    • Buy a garden hose long enough to reach every part of your property
    • Make sure emergency vehicles can readily access your home, and mark all driveways clearly

Make a plan

Map out a strategy beforehand and share it with your family and neighbors, so you can proceed calmly if a wildfire is approaching.

  • Put together an emergency kit containing first-aid supplies and enough water and non-perishable food for at least 3 days
  • Map out several escape routes (in case some are blocked) both by vehicle and on foot
  • Decide on a safe gathering place outside the hazard area
  • Keep your car’s gas tank filled at all times
  • Make sure pets have ID tags and/or microchips, and keep a sturdy carrier on hand
  • Know which items you’ll want to take in an evacuation (irreplaceable photos, important documents, prescriptions, etc.) and be ready to gather them quickly

What to do in a wildfire

Here’s what to do if a wildfire is encroaching.

If you’re advised to evacuate:

Gather your family members and pets, grab your emergency kit and mobile phone, and leave immediately (by car, if possible). Choose a route away from the fire and keep an eye on the fire’s movement.

If you haven’t been ordered to evacuate:

Provided the fire isn’t dangerously close yet, here are a few additional steps you can take to prepare.

  • Close all vents, windows, outside doors (including pet doors), and shutters
  • Shut interior doors to avoid draft
  • Take down flammable curtains and window shades
  • Turn on exterior and interior lights to make your home more visible
  • Shut off your gas at the meter
  • Attach garden hoses to spigots and place a tall ladder at the corner of your house for firefighters to use
  • Round up your pets and place them in their carriers
  • Put your emergency kit in your car along with any vitally important papers or valuables

The most important thing to do in any natural disaster is to stay calm and be prepared.

And of course, whether it’s fire season or not, the best way to protect your home and belongings is to make sure you have the right homeowners or renters insurance. We’ll be glad to help you out.

Related links

Tornado season is here. Are you prepared?

Are you living in a natural disaster zone?

Safe and smart | Home safety


about Ellen

Ellen has spent many years as a professional wordsmith, helping to shed light on such topics as world travel, cargo pants, and the porosity of bath tiles. As a freelance copywriter for Esurance, she brings her boundless curiosity to the world of insurance. Outside work, she can be found cheering on the San Francisco Giants, hiking in the Oakland hills, and (barely) resisting smuggling penguins home from Antarctica.