If you live in certain areas of California, you are probably no stranger to natural disasters, such as earthquakes, drought, and landslides. While California is known for its blue skies and warm weather, it also has some of the worst wildfires, particularly when there has been little to no rainfall. This causes the trees, brush, and grass to burn more easily. When the winds pick up, the fire can spread very quickly, destroying everything in its path.
If you live in an area where wildfires are common, it is crucial that you take the necessary safety precautions and have an evacuation plan in place to ensure that you, your loved ones, and your property are protected. A lawyer can assist with the claims process if you have property damage because of a wildfire.
What is a Wildfire?
Wildfires are uncontrolled and unwanted fires that usually start in forested areas. A combination of high temperatures, low humidity, lack of rainfall, dry vegetation, and windy conditions is a recipe for disaster. Once a fire starts, it can quickly get out of control. While natural igniters, like lightning, can trigger a wildfire, many wildfires are caused by humans, most of which are accidental.
Once an ignition source starts a fire, the dry trees and other vegetation provides the fuel needed to maintain and spread the fire. In addition to the dry conditions of the vegetation, wind causes a fire to grow and spread faster than other conditions, as it constantly brings a fresh supply of oxygen to the fire. In addition to destroying forests, parks, and other natural resources, wildfires can destroy homes and threaten the safety of those who live and work in its path.
What Pre-Evacuation Steps Should I Take?
Since wildfires are unplanned and often spread very quickly, it is imperative that you have a plan in place so that you are prepared if a wildfire gets out of control in your area. The following checklist will help you prepare for an evacuation:
- Shut all windows and doors, but leave them unlocked.
- Remove all window shades and curtains, as these are flammable.
- Move all flammable furniture to the middle of the room.
- Shut off the gas, pilot lights, and air conditioning.
- Leave the lights on in the house so firefighters can see your home if smoky conditions affect visibility.
- Turn off all propane tanks.
- Rake and remove leaves, dead limbs, and twigs from the ground.
- Connect garden hoses.
- Do not wait for an official evacuation order to leave your home. If you feel threatened or unsafe, make sure that you have your emergency supply kit and evacuate the premises.
- Check on neighbors, particularly if they are older or disabled.
- Review your insurance policy and prepare a complete list of your home’s contents.
Family Communication Plan
It is important that you set up a family communication plan that designates one person as the point of contact for friends and relatives. Keep a list of important phone numbers written down or stored digitally. Make sure that all family members are familiar with the plan so that they know what to do if an evacuation becomes necessary. The plan should include the following:
- Establish a designated emergency meeting location that is a safe distance from the fire. This will help confirm that all family members have safely evacuated the home.
- Plan several escape routes from the home and the community in case certain routes are blocked and no longer safe. Practice these routes regularly so that every family member knows what to do in the event of an emergency.
- If you plan to evacuate by car, make sure that your vehicle is in good condition and that it has a full tank of gas.
- Make sure that the evacuation plan includes all pets and livestock.
How Do I Stay Safe During an Evacuation?
It may be extremely difficult leaving your home, knowing that it could be destroyed by a wildfire. However, if authorities have issued an evacuation order, it is crucial that you leave. If you decide to stay, you are putting yourself and your family in extreme danger. In addition, firefighters will be put in a position to risk their lives to rescue you. When evacuating your property, keep the following tips in mind:
- Listen to emergency alerts and notifications online or on the radio. They will provide important information and evacuation instructions.
- Make sure that you have an evacuation plan in place for your pets and any larger animals, like horses, cows, and other livestock.
- If you become trapped, call 911 and provide your exact location. Keep in mind that emergency responders will get to you as soon as possible, but the fire may cause them to be delayed. If the fire is out of control, they may not be able to get to you.
- When driving away, roll up all windows and close air vents to prevent smoke from getting into the vehicle and irritating your eyes or respiratory system.
- Use an N95 mask to protect yourself from harmful smoke inhalation.
Due to the ongoing Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, public shelters may have limited space available. Consider making plans to shelter with family members who live outside of the local area that is directly impacted by the fire.
If you are staying at a shelter temporarily, maintain a distance of 6 feet between yourself and other people who are not members of your household. Wear a mask and use hand sanitizer regularly. You may be required to take a COVID-19 test or show proof of vaccination before entering a shelter.
What Safety Precautions Do I Take When Returning Home After a Wildfire?
Do not attempt to return to your home unless local fire or law enforcement authorities say it is safe. Even after the fire has been put out, the condition of your home or the surrounding area may not be safe. The following are several types of possible safety hazards that you should be aware of after a wildfire:
- Safety hazards inside your home: Wildfires and the extreme heat they give off can cause safety issues. There may be hot spots throughout the house. Floors and surfaces can still be smoldering. If you touch or walk on these hot surfaces, you can suffer a serious burn injury. If you see smoke or fire coming out of the attic, get out of the house immediately and call 911. Before entering the house, put on thick-soled shoes and leather gloves.
- Outdoor safety hazards: When returning to your home, use caution when approaching your property and be aware of certain safety hazards. The fire can cause power lines to come down or poles to become unsteady. Charred trees, burned tree roots, live embers, and smoldering debris are extremely hot and can cause severe burns if you come in direct contact with them. There may be smoldering sparks or embers in the gutters or on the roof. Check these areas, and if there is fire still present, call 911.
- Communication tips: Organizations, like the American Red Cross, and local police, weather and tv and radio stations, will provide important updates about the status of the fire and when it is safe to return to your home. Cellular phone systems often get overwhelmed after a natural disaster, so limit your phone use to emergency calls only.
Once you are able to safely return to your home, you will need to assess the damage to your home and property. Take detailed photographs of the property and the exterior of the home, including the roof. If the roof has been damaged by the fire, place a tarp on the damaged part of the roof.
If it is safe to enter your home, take pictures of any fire or smoke damage to the walls, carpet, furniture, attic, and any other belongings. Contact your insurance agent as soon as possible so that you can initiate the claims process. An experienced lawyer can assist with the claims process and address all of your questions and concerns.
Los Angeles Property Insurance Lawyers at ACTS Law Help Clients Who Have Property Damaged Caused by Wildfires
If your home was damaged in a wildfire, do not hesitate to contact our Los Angeles property insurance lawyers at ACTS Law. Our skilled legal team will work closely with you to make sure your rights are protected. To schedule a free consultation, call us today at 833-ACTS-LAW or contact us online. Located in Los Angeles and San Diego, we serve clients throughout Southern California.