As the high season for wildfires—which is roughly May through October—approaches across the country, there is no better time to start proactively preparing your home and belongings against the threat of wildfire.
(To find out if you live in an area that’s susceptible to wildfires, this map of national fire zones and fire activity, created by the government’s National Interagency Fire Center is a great resource to find out your proximity to a fire zone.)
One of the easiest things you can do at any time before fire season arrives is to protect your valuables, including your important documents, irreplaceable photos, and, even, cash.
While getting yourself and your loved ones to safety is paramount during a wildfire, here are a few ways to plan ahead to make sure that your most prized possessions stay safe.
1. Digitize your documents
Eliminate any future headaches by creating digital files of all of your most important documents. If hard copies of certain things, like birth certificates, are destroyed, they’ll need to be replaced, but having digitized backups of all of your most important information will make the replacement process much smoother.
You can use an app like Doc Scan, which you can download to your phone, or, if you prefer a physical document scanner, you can try a portable, rechargeable, Wifi-enabled paper scanner.
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2. Store your original documents safely
Items like birth certificates, passports, wills, deeds, and other legal documents are technically replaceable, but going through that process is no fun. There are plenty of water- and fire-resistant document bags and storage boxes that are made to endure exposure to high heat and can protect not just documents but any small valuables you cherish.
While products like these are only meant to withstand heat for a short time, they will protect contents against temperatures up to 1,550°F.
3. Make sure you’re insured
There’s only so much you can take with you if you find yourself in an emergency evacuation situation, and when you leave precious belongings behind in a fire, it’s essential to make sure some of it can be replaced.
This is where the right kind of insurance policy is essential. Depending on the circumstances, a traditional homeowners insurance policy will protect against some damage against natural disasters, but it all depends on where you live and what situation you find yourself in.
Coverage in a flood zone, for instance, is vastly different than coverage in a wildfire zone. In areas prone to certain kinds of disasters (especially those exacerbated by climate change, and occur more frequently than they have in the past), insurers can even change and reduce policies unbeknownst to their policy-holders.
This practice has become so common that in 2021, California issued a moratorium preventing insurance companies from pulling coverage in high-risk areas).
As fire season approaches, check with your insurance provider to make sure your home and valuables are covered and that your coverage has not been reduced or eliminated.
4. Keep an inventory of your belongings
It might sound tedious to go through your entire home and make a list of every single thing you own, but in the case of a fire where many of your belongings are lost or destroyed, it will make processing your insurance claims much easier.
The Insurance Information Institute suggests going room by room and taking it slow, photographing belongings or using an app like MyStuff2 Pro to keep track of your items. The organization also suggests retaining receipts for large appliances and valuable items and storing those receipts safely to keep a running list of items as you buy them.
5. Create a fire-resistant barrier around your home
The most important safety precaution you can take to ensure fire doesn’t reach your home and valuables is to create a defensible space with fuel breaks, limited debris, and proper landscaping.
There are many spray-on chemical products that claim to offer additional fire-proofing to your home and property when applied to your home’s exterior, but it is essential to note that these kinds of products should never be used in place of other safety measures, but as a backup system, of sorts.
Stacey Sargent Frederick of the California Fire Science Consortium explains, “The biggest concern that fire professionals have around both gels and water sprinkler systems is that they can create a false sense of security, where people will put these in place, but not take on the home hardening and defensible space mitigation efforts that are much more tried and true with science-tested results. There are so many products that have sprung to the market claiming to be fire-proofing that evaluating which ones do and don’t work is an issue.”
That’s not to say these spray-on thermal protectors are all bad, they should just never be considered the first or only protection for your home.
Sargent Frederick recommends, “Start with home hardening and vegetation management in the defensible space zone. If you’re looking to use a sprinkler system in addition to these, having a gravity-fed system with a separate water supply (i.e. a water tank or pool) or applying a non-toxic coating or gel could be considered, but with no guarantees for effectiveness until we have the science to support it.”
While things like sprays seem like a quick and easy way to protect your valuables against the heat and flame of wildfires, there is unfortunately no quick version of fire safety. But, by employing some of the tips above and being prepared, you can help cut your losses and protect your valuables as best you can.
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