IBHS Offers Guidance on Reducing Wildfire-Related Damage

In recognition of Florida Wildfire Awareness Week (April 8 - 15), the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) is providing guidance to help property owners reduce their risk of wildfire-related damage.

The Florida Forest Service has reported that more than 1,000 wildfires have consumed nearly 20,000 acres in Florida just since the beginning of the year, and the threat of wildfires remains high due to recent dry conditions.

"Florida is one the few states that has a year-round wildfire season," said Julie Rochman, IBHS president and CEO, "and current drought conditions -- particularly in the Panhandle -- have heightened the wildfire risk, making preparation all the more important."

Reducing wildfire risk starts by addressing three sources of vulnerability: the structure, nearby landscaping, and the vegetation in the general area surrounding the structure. Each potential problem can be dealt with through maintenance, material and design improvements, and vegetation control, according to Rochman. "Property owners should assess the specific vulnerabilities of their home or business and take the steps to reduce or eliminate them."


According to Dr. Steve Quarles, senior research scientist at IBHS, windborne embers present the greatest risk to a structure during a wildfire. "Windborne embers can ignite vegetation, debris and combustible materials that can lead to ignition of the exterior of a house," Dr. Quarles said. "Further, embers blown or drawn into buildings through gable end vents, eave vents and other openings can ignite a house from the inside."

IBHS demonstrated the very real threat windborne embers present during the first-ever, full-scale wildfire ember storm demonstration at the IBHS Research Center in South Carolina. The demonstration illustrated how easily some commonly used building materials and items near or on houses can ignite from embers, and what homeowners can do to better protect their homes.

Many ways to protect a home are free or cost less than $20, such as keeping gutters clear, sealing around all doors -- including the garage -- and covering vents. For example, property owners can prepare for wildfires by cleaning up dead vegetation around the property, in gutters and on the roof, all of which eliminate fuel for a fire. Maintaining a very carefully managed and maintained vegetation zone within a five-foot zone immediately adjacent to your home is critical. Creation of this zone (sometimes referred to as a "noncombustible" or "low-combustible" zone), can be accomplished using rock or stone mulch and well-irrigated, low-growing, well-maintained, and non-woody vegetation.

IBHS' Wildfire Retrofit Guide -- Florida Edition includes information about how to create a wildfire-resistant landscape. Property owners can use the Wildfire Risk Assessment Checklist at the end of the guide to determine the retrofit projects they want to undertake, and use the cost estimator in the checklist to help prioritize the projects they can do now and those that should be part of future maintenance and renovations.

Find out other ways to reduce wildfire risk with guidance from IBHS at www.disastersafety.org/wildfire.

Related information:
IBHS Reducing Wildfire Risk Series
Reducing Wildfire Risk - Commercial (pdf)
Reducing Wildfire Risk - Residential (pdf)
Reducing Wildfire Risk - Farms & Ranches (pdf)


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