Anyone who knows the difference between a “Zonie” and an “Arizonan” can tell you what May brings: the beginning of wildfire season. As the last traces of coolness head toward the mountains and beyond, homeowners in Phoenix, Scottsdale, Mesa, Chandler and Tucson and surrounding counties can look forward to the simple joys of burn notices, monsoons, and eventually, wildfires.
Last year, the Wallow Fire near Alpine burned more than 500,000 acres in Eastern Arizona, destroying homes and businesses, claiming the title of largest wildfire in Arizona history. Arizona insurance adjusters were swamped with claims, and many home and business owners found out too late that they were underinsured.
The reality of life in the desert is that sooner or later there are going to be fires. According to the U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook, drought conditions in Arizona are expected to persist or intensify through the end of July, 2012.
There are some tips to protect your home during drought seasons. The Arizona Division of Emergency Management offers several tips to help homeowners protect their assets.
- Housekeeping is your friend. Old branches, dead leaves, overgrown or drying shrubbery, and clogged gutters are just a few of the hidden flash spots for wildfires. By removing both organic and man-made debris to at least 30 feet from your home, you can create a defensible space around these structures.
- Don’t skimp on storage. Combustible or flammable materials need to be stored properly, in approved containers. Also, remember to keep wooden structures like picnic tables and woodpiles a safe distance from your home.
- Be aware of power lines. It’s important to prune bushes around the house, removing dead leaves and branches. But don’t forget any trees that may have branches hanging near power lines. All it takes is one monsoon wind to turn that lovely tree into a fire trap.
- Protect your most precious assets. A house can be replaced. But your family cannot be. Always be aware of hazardous conditions, and make sure your family has a well-defined emergency procedure. Identify more than one route to and from your home or neighborhood, and agree on a predetermined place to gather in times of disaster.
Homeowners can also use some of the following preventative measures to decrease their risk of suffering wildfire-related losses:
- Replace roof with fire-resistant materials
- Provide fire breaks to prevent the spread of fire
- Provide fire roads to aid in firefighting
- Install smoke detectors in your home
- Teach each member of the family how to use a fire extinguisher
- Regularly check fire extinguishers and smoke alarms to ensure they are in working order
- Create a disaster supply kit that includes the following items: a three-day supply of water (1 gallon per person), non-perishable food, a change of clothing, a medical kit that includes prescription medications, credit cards and important documents, personal hygiene products, extra eyeglasses, matches in a waterproof container, and a map of the area which includes important phone numbers.
Finally, ask a family member who lives outside of the area to act as your “family contact.” In times of disaster, this contact would be the go-to person to coordinate information, keep track of family members’ whereabouts, and maintain contact addresses and phone numbers.
Arizona is an amazing place to live, with abundant natural beauty. While wildfires are to be expected, they don’t have to be devastating. With preparation and common sense, you can protect your home and your assets from the dangers of summer.
We would also recommend that you take the time to sit down with your local insurance agent, and let him/her know your fears and get their expert opinion on any changes you should make to your home insurance policy. If you don’t have a good relationship with your insurance agent, it’s time to find a new one!