Top 10 states with most homes at risk for wildfire damage

By Posted : 10/11/2013

wildfire smoke over cityHomeowners in wildfire risk states aren't out of the woods yet - the next two months of wildfire season have the potential to flare up due to drought conditions, according to a new report.

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More than 1.2 million homes in the West -- including Texas, California, Colorado, Oregon and Arizona -- are at risk for being destroyed or damaged by wildfires, according to a report released this week. New Mexico, Montana, Utah, Idaho and Nevada make up the rest of the top 10 states at "very high risk" for wildfire damage, according to the CoreLogic's "2013 Wildfire Hazard Risk Report."

Potentially endangered homes in the top 10 states are valued at more than $189 billion, according to the report. Here are the states with the most homes that face a "very high risk" due to wildfires:

  1. Texas: 678,544 homes
  2. California: 375,500 homes
  3. Colorado: 200,443 homes
  4. Oregon: 107,388 homes
  5. Arizona: 48,823 homes
  6. New Mexico: 35,024 homes
  7. Montana: 26,468 homes
  8. Utah: 22,859 homes
  9. Idaho: 22,503 homes
  10. Nevada 11,698 homes

Beyond regions and states, the Irvine-based research firm looked at city areas, with property in and around Los Angeles deemed the most vulnerable. CoreLogic says more than 60,000 homes with a total value of almost $8.3 billion in the Los Angeles area could be damaged by wildfires. Nearby Malibu is "at the top of the list of ZIP code areas, with more than $700 million in potential residential property exposure to wildfire risk," according to the report.

Thomas Jeffery, CoreLogic's senior hazard scientist, says the study's relevance is underscored by the recent Rim fire in California's Sierra Nevada, which scarred 257,000 acres. He also pointed to another huge blaze, the Black Forest fire in Colorado's El Paso County that leveled more than 480 homes.

"Recent trends have proven that the risk of wildfire damage is a real and immediate threat to many homeowners in the Western U.S.," he says. "Coming off a record-setting year in 2012, the 2013 wildfire season has already presented a number of damaging fires. More importantly, the season is far from over. The next two months could be a critical time should fires continue to ravage the dry fuel areas in the West, as ongoing drought conditions in the region continue to exacerbate wildfire risk."

Jeffery adds that the problem could grow as an appetite for homes in forested or wilderness spots rises. Further, as cities grow, they often spread into areas plagued by wildfires.

"Just because your home is located within a city boundary does not necessarily mean you are safe from wildfire destruction if there is wildland vegetation nearby," he says. "Wind-blown embers can travel hundreds or even thousands of feet and ignite homes located far away from an actual fire."

Preparing for wildfires by getting defensive

Protect yourself with "defensible space" by creating a buffer zone that may prevent fire from reaching the property. Check with your state or county about defensible space requirements if you live in an area at risk for wildfire. California, for instance, requires space extend 100 feet outward from buildings. Here are the other guidelines:

  • Within the first 30 feet (or the first 50 feet in San Diego): Remove all dead plants, dried grass, fallen pine needles, flammable plants and wood piles and trim trees to keep branches at least 10 feet away from other trees
  • In the next 70 feet: Remove fallen leaves, branches, needles and cones, mow grass to 4 inches or less, and space trees and shrubs a safe distance apart.

Another step is to use non-combustible materials to upgrade or build a home. To make the roof more fire-resistant, replace wood shingles with composition, metal or tile. Cover vent openings, chimney outlets and stovepipes with metal mesh, and screen or enclose gutters to prevent plant debris from accumulating.

When it comes to landscaping, some plants, shrubs and trees retain water more than others and are deemed "fire-resistant." You should consider using such vegetation when planning your landscaping. Fire-resistant shrubs include hedging roses, bush honeysuckles, currant, cotoneaster, sumac and shrub apples. Plant hardwood, maple, poplar and cherry trees that are less flammable than pine, fir and other conifers.

Review your homeowner insurance coverage

The Insurance Information Institute (III) advises having enough homeowners insurance to fully rebuild your home and replace belongings lost in a fire. That amount could be more than the current market value. Also, be sure to tell your insurer if you've remodeled so the coverage reflects the upgrades.

The III also suggests a home inventory. Besides helping replace personal possessions, the institute says "it can also speed the claims process and substantiate losses for income tax purposes. A detailed home inventory is helpful should you need to apply for disaster aid, too."

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