Wildfire Season is Upon Us

By Melissa C. Marsted

“By failing to prepare, you are prepared to fail.” – Benjamin Franklin

“Even with all our technology and the inventions that make modern life so much easier than it once was, it takes just one big natural disaster to wipe all that away and remind us that, here on Earth, we’re still at the mercy of nature.” – Neil deGrasse Tyson

As I write this during the first few weeks of June, there have already been multiple fires across the US that have burned hundreds of homes and thousands of acres. Fire season is upon us, and it’s time to get prepared.

“As of June 8, there have been 177 wildfires that have burned 564 acres this year in Utah. Of that, 84% have been human-caused. Last year, there were 326 fires at this time and 88% of them were because of people.”

https://www.kuer.org/utah-wildfires

Unfortunately after losing my house in the 2008 Santa Barbara Tea Fire and evacuating for four days during the Parley’s Canyon Fire as well as other fires over the years, I live with the fear of wildfires and natural disasters, but I consider myself proactive about preparation. On the afternoon of the Tea Fire, I was on a run with my older son. We commented to each other that the air felt eery as sundowner winds continued to escalate. No sooner had we arrived home when a friend called to warn me about the approaching wildfire. We immediately started packing the car and within an hour we were on our way with our Jack Russell and one of our cats. With four potential escape routes, only one road was open for us to evacuate to Butterfly Beach, below the hills of Montecito. All three others led back towards the fire. Safely at the beach we watched massive flames consume homes and eucalyptus tress across the vast hillside. The next morning we learned that 220 homes were lost in the Tea Fire. Where would we live?

I’m naturally a planner. Prior to the fire, I had photo albums stored in the front hall closet. I had a storage unit where we stored items off season and childhood memorabilia. I had a safe deposit box. Our insurance coverage with Chubb. was up to date, including extended replacement cost coverage. When it came time to evacuate during the Tea Fire and the Parley’s Canyon Fire, I pulled items room by room. For me I focused on art and memorabilia. Finding a cat, for example, at the last minute may prove difficult and in our case, our second cat came sauntering around the property four days after the fire while we were sifting through ashes and debris.

Yes, in the long run, we lost stuff but my two boys and I and three pets moved eight times between 2008 and 2012 when we were finally able to settle in Park City. With temperatures and winds increasing, I am constantly thinking of ways to be better prepared. I share this list of recommendations:

  • Sign up for Summit County/Park City emergency alerts by clicking on links on the Summit County website.
  • Check your home’s smoke and carbon monoxide batteries annually.
  • Prepare your home’s exterior space as much as possible with drought tolerant gardens in accordance with Firewise® practices, remove pine needles and leaves from roof and gutters, trim trees and definitely remove dead branches, and move combustibles away from the house to improve the defensibility of one’s structure.
  • Take some time to have an evacuation plan and where you will meet family members. If your house is a total loss, consider where you can stay for approximately two years after the loss.
  • Take photographs of everything including the inside of drawers and closets. Some insurance companies require itemization. The good news is that appraisers can now assess a total loss via Zoom, rather than waiting a few days after your loss for an appraiser to arrive.
  • Make a list of what you want to take if you have ten minutes, 30 minutes or more. We had an hour to evacuate. When I reflect back on what we took, there are only a handful of items I wish I had taken like my father’s baseball cards, for example.
  • Call your homeowners agent to go over limits, rebuilding prices in our area range from $300 to more than $1000 per square foot
  • Ask about your Extended Replacement Cost, jewelry and art supplements, home business insurance. Loss of a car, boat, ATV are covered under their own policies, but they must be insured.
  • Consider a storage unit and/or safe deposit box. I know it’s just “stuff” but the “stuff” that I did have after the fire made such a difference in my recovery.
  • Most insurance companies grant supplemental living expenses for two years after the fire.

For additional information, here are a few links:

https://www.pinebrookmasterassn.org/fire-safety/
https://www.nifc.gov/fire-information/nfn
https://www.ready.gov/wildfires
https://www.ready.gov/sites/default/files/2020-07/how-to-prepare-for-a-wildfire.pdf
www.utahfireinfo.gov
www.firewise.org
www.fireworksafety.com
www.smokeybear.com