wildfires and homeowners insurance

Dealing with wildfires and the damage they cause can be a daunting experience. But if your house is marred by a wildfire's wrath, your homeowners insurance may be able to help.

wildfires: a growing problem

Every year, the wildfire season seems to start earlier and burn later. In fact, the National Interagency Fire Center reports 2015 as having experienced the most dismal wildfire season on record in the United States — with more than 68,000 wildfires burning a whopping 10.1 million acres.

In the past 3 decades, the length of wildfire season has increased worldwide by nearly 20 percent, according to the scientific journal Nature Communications.

While wildfires can erupt in pretty much any given part of the United States, some states are at risk more than others. In 2015, the top 10 states hit hardest by wildfires were:

  1. Alaska: 5,111,404 acres burned
  2. Washington: 1,137,664 acres burned
  3. California: 893,362 acres burned
  4. Idaho: 804,094 acres burned
  5. Oregon: 685,809 acres burned
  6. Montana: 351,264 acres burned
  7. Texas: 184,418 acres burned
  8. Arizona: 160,152 acres burned
  9. Oklahoma: 100,382 acres burned
  10. Florida: 73,432 acres burned

does homeowners insurance cover wildfire damage?

Damage from wildfires and forest fires could be covered by your homeowners insurance. While your dwelling coverage can help with expenses related to repairing or rebuilding your home (up to the limits you choose for your policy), personal property coverage can help replace any of your belongings that are destroyed. Plus, other structures protection can be a financial safeguard for things like a shed or gazebo.

And those pricey fire department charges? Most homeowners policies, including those from Esurance, will help pay up to a certain amount for service charges made by fire departments.

Homeowners insurance could also provide coverage for additional living expenses (like food, a hotel, and transportation) if you're forced to evacuate due to a wildfire. And if your house gets vandalized while you're away, your policy may offer you protection in that circumstance too.

What's more, home insurance will typically help cover expenses related to smoke and soot damage, as long as the damage resulted from a covered event, like a wildfire.

Is homeowners insurance more expensive in high-risk wildfire areas?

Homeowners who live close to areas prone to wildfires and brush fires may pay more for coverage because of the financial risk posed to the insurer.

And some homeowners will flat-out be denied coverage under a standard home policy — often those who live within 2,500 feet of canyons, wildfire areas, or brush areas. These homeowners can often purchase a standalone fire policy in order to secure protection against wildfires.

What if trees and other landscaping suffer damage in a wildfire?

Most insurers, including Esurance, will pay up to a certain percentage of your dwelling coverage limit on your homeowners policy if your trees, shrubs, or other lawn plants are damaged during a wildfire.

For example, many insurance companies will pay up to 5 percent of your dwelling coverage limit to help remove debris and replace any destroyed plants. Generally, your insurer won't pay more than $500 per any one plant, including the cost to remove it.

However, coverage does vary from company to company, so it's important to read the terms and conditions of your specific policy. If you're an Esurance policyholder and have questions about your coverages, feel free to give us a ring at 1-800-ESURANCE (1-800-378-7262). Our licensed agents are here to help at these times.

wildfire damage prevention tips for homeowners

Of course, the best way to avoid having to file a wildfire insurance claim is by reducing your home's risk of damage.

The Firewise Communities program recommends taking these steps when it comes to home maintenance and landscaping:

  • Use nonflammable construction materials, like roofing and materials for exterior walls
  • Apply fire-retardant finishes to exterior wood
  • Keep gutters and roofs clean of debris
  • Remove tree limbs from attachments and overhangs
  • Make sure your home's windows are double-paned, or use tempered glass
  • Use fire-resistant plants and gardening materials
  • Keep trees clear of limbs and branches until it reaches the 10-foot mark
  • Clear your yard of dead vegetation and other debris
  • Maintain the space between your yard's trees
  • Make sure to mow, prune, and water your yard on a regular basis

It's important to note what not to do too — as in, do not store firewood close to your place between April and September, and do not store propane tanks against your home or underneath porches or decks.

It's also a wise idea to have a written evacuation plan that you and your family review on a regular basis. You can decide on safe family gathering points, alternative routes should the unexpected occur, and keep a list of important documents and emergency phone numbers.

And be sure to maintain a thorough home inventory of your more valuable belongings in case they're damaged or destroyed in a blaze — it can really expedite the claims process and help you get back on your feet faster. We should mention that you shouldn't dispose of any damaged or destroyed belongings until the claims process is complete.

get reliable protection against wildfires and so much more with esurance

When you get a quote for Esurance homeowners insurance, you'll see all the perks we have to offer our policyholders. On top of offering a bunch of money-saving discounts to help you keep some cash in your wallet, we also have a wide variety of coverage options (including the ones outlined above) that can help financially protect you in the event of a wildfire or other covered incident.

How to prevent house fires
Read more about how to reduce your risk, create a fire plan, and more.

Home fire safety: get alarmed
Learn about the importance of smoke detectors (and properly maintaining them).

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