Hotter, drier weather has produced a spate of destructive fires, but there are key steps homeowners can take to lessen the risks.
This includes understanding which communities are most threatened by wildfires before you buy a house, as well as making your home and yard more fire-resistant after you move in.
Even as the climate keeps warming, Americans continue to build and buy homes in fire-prone areas. The result has been an increase in deadly fires. Two of the worst fire years on record in terms of acreage burned have been since 2015.
Some 4.5 million properties are at high risk from forest fires, according to an analysis by risk assessment firm Verisk. That includes 2 million in California, 718,000 in Texas, and 371,000 in Colorado: https://www.verisk.com/insurance/campaigns/location-fireline-state-risk-report/
Last year was a comparatively mild year for fires. Even so, 4.7 million acres burned; the Kincade Fire in Sonoma County, California, burned 78,000 acres and destroyed 374 buildings. In 2018, the Camp Fire in Butte County, California, killed 85 people and destroyed 18,800 structures while burning 153,000 acres. In 2017, the Tubbs Fire in Northern California killed 22 and destroyed 5,600 structures.
Here are six steps you can take to lower risks:
Ask your local fire department to drop by. In many areas, firefighters will visit your home and make recommendations and share local information you mightn't find elsewhere.
Study fire-risk maps before you buy a home. There are places where fire problems are much more likely. The federal government has created a map that shows the wildfire risk for the entire U.S. You can zoom in on areas to learn the risks: https://www.firelab.org/sites/default/files/images/downloads/whp--2018--continuous--lettersize.jpg
Many states have produced their own fire-risk maps. California, which has the biggest fire problem, has maps for individual counties as well as a statewide map: https://osfm.fire.ca.gov/divisions/wildfire-planning-engineering/wildland-hazards-building-codes/fire-hazard-severity-zones-maps/
If you're planning to live in an area with high fire risk, stay away from neighborhoods where houses sit cheek-by-jowl. One reason the town of Paradise, California, was so devastated by the Camp Fire in 2018 was that many homes were located close together, allowing fire to leap easily from one house to the next. Paradise is being rebuilt, and the state is insisting on "defensible space" around homes.