PASADENA, Calif.?-- Fire-resistant building materials, proper screening against embers, correct defensible space and adequate insurance coverage top the list of subjects explored by California residents in the first five weeks after wildfires destroyed hundreds of home.?
Nearly 23,000 residents discussed fire-proofing with rebuilding experts from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in disaster assistance centers and home improvement stores in Southern California.
"Insurance is one key to protect against fire loss," said Gina White, FEMA Mitigation Branch director working on the Southern California wildfire recovery. "One of the most important steps anyone can take to guard the investment in their home or business is to unfold their insurance policy and see what's not in it. They might be surprised to learn that they are not adequately insured."
Having correct coverage means having replacement value insurance against all perils likely to threaten property, said White. In California, this could mean separate policies may be needed for flood, debris flow or earthquake damage. White suggests that home and business owners and renters discuss coverage with their insurance agents to determine whether their coverage guards against all perils and whether it has kept up with increases in rebuilding costs.
After insurance, White says the top question is how to install screens to keep fast-flying embers out of soffits, eaves, attics, vents in crawl spaces, and even chimneys. Screening can make the difference between losing a home to fire or cleaning soot off the walls after the fire passes.
Closely related were questions about the most fire-resistant building materials. The simple answer is to select Class A fire-resistant materials, according to rebuilding experts. This could mean converting from wood shakes to ceramic tiles. A number of fire-resistant materials are available for roofs, walls, windows and doors. And installing these materials could lower insurance rates, helping the upgrade pay for itself.
Another popular question is how to establish and maintain defensible space around buildings. Guided by a 2005 California law, rural property owners must maintain a fire-safe landscape zone at least 100 feet around homes and structures to discourage wildfire from attacking buildings.?
"This question, like the issue itself, has branches," said White. "Sometimes the question is how to design and maintain a fire-safe zone, and sometimes it's how to get permission to do the work." White strongly encourages home and business owners to talk to neighbors, neighborhood associations and local officials and to make sure everyone is working together.
FEMA's Fire Administration has an illustrated publication called "Wildfire: Are You Prepared." It's available online at www.usfa.dhs.gov/downloads/pdf/publications/wildfire.pdf. A detailed publication entitled "Avoiding Wildfire Damage: A Checklist for Homeowners" can be downloaded at www.fema.gov/pdf/hazard/wildfire/wdfrdam.pdf.
The California Governor's Office of Emergency Services (OES) offers tips for homeowners, business owners and government agencies on reducing the risk of fires and other natural hazards through its hazard mitigation Web portal at www.oes.ca.gov.
The California Department of Insurance has information for consumers online at http://www.insurance.ca.gov/0100-consumers/. Another illustrated checklist entitled "Homeowners Checklist" is available at www.fire.ca.gov/education_checklist.php....