SEATTLE, Wash. -- Fire season has barely begun and firefighters have already engaged hundreds of fires across the West, in what may become one of the worst fire seasons in history. With long-range forecasts calling for continued hot, dry weather, U.S. Fire Administrator Carrye B. Brown and Federal Insurance Administrator Jo Ann Howard offer a single message: "We know we can't stop Mother Nature, but we can change Human Nature. We can take action before disasters strike to mitigate their worst effects and remove some of the pain from the recovery process."
To protect homes from wildfires, Administrator Brown urges the creation of "defensible perimeters" by clearing flammable debris well-away from structures and outbuildings:
- Establish firebreaks around the perimeter of structures, power poles and property.
- Cut back flammable weeds and brush and remove tree branches to a height of 15 feet.
- Stack firewood away from your home.
- Store combustible materials only in approved containers, and well away from the house.
- Keep roofs, chimneys and gutters clean.
- Keep a non-flammable screen over the flue opening of chimneys or stovepipes.
- Use fire resistant materials when retrofitting or renovating structures.
- Install smoke detectors on every floor, and near sleeping areas.
- Have fire tools (shovel, rake, water bucket and a ladder that can reach the roof) handy.
- Plan and rehearse family evacuation plans.
Administrator Jo Ann Howard agrees. "Wildfires can strip slopes of groundcover, increasing flash floods - which can strike suddenly, with higher velocity and greater debris loads than seasonal flooding," said Howard. "You don't need to live in a high risk flood zone to be at risk from flash floods - or to qualify for National Flood Insurance. The time to act is before floodwaters rise."
Tips for reducing vulnerability to flood damage range from elevating or relocating vulnerable appliances, water heaters and furnaces, to installing backflow valves on sewer lines and anchoring in-yard fuel tanks.
According to Howard, most floods are too small to qualify for federal assistance, but collectively still cause millions of dollars in damage. "Standard homeowner insurance does not cover flood damage," said Howard. "National Flood Insurance pays off regardless of whether there is a disaster declaration or not. It's affordable, and offers a comprehensive safety net against future flood losses."
New policies do have a 30-day waiting period before they take effect, and Howard recommends that at-risk properties be protected NOW. For more information on how to minimize the effects of natural disasters, visit http://www.fema.gov.