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Imagine this: Your cell phone rings. The call is from a police officer, ringing the buzzer at your front gate. He speaks urgently, “We are asking everyone to evacuate now. There’s a fast-moving wildfire at the edge of town, and you need to leave immediately. Do you need any help to evacuate?” The news takes a moment to sink in before you spring into action. You race around the house stuffing electronics, clothing, and important documents and photos into a bag. Thick smoke starts to blot out the sun. It all happens so fast...
Unlike hurricanes where weather forecasters can predict strength, path, and storm surge, wildfires emerge without warning and spread indiscriminately and quickly.
If you live in an area with high wildfire risk, you need a long-term fire prevention strategy. You also want granular contingency plans if a fire occurs. If you’re fortunate, you may have hours to collect important belongings and evacuate. But many victims of the recent Marshall and Lahaina Fires had flames on their property without any advance warning.
If you receive an evacuation order, what steps will you take to safeguard your family, pets, and property?
In the day-to-day hustle of life, it’s human nature to postpone talking about unpleasant topics. However, wildfire preparation can make a difference between life and death — and possibly saving your property. You need to plan with your family and household staff for a variety of contingencies. Start by listing scenarios applicable to your family, unique location, and property characteristics. What do you need to plan for? Here are examples to consider:
With climate change, wildfire frequency and severity have increased. Blazes are occurring in more regions around the world; heat and drought have turned green landscapes into crisp fire fuel.
Many high-net-worth (HNW) individuals build homes in secluded, wooded areas, chosen for beauty and privacy. Unfortunately, these picturesque locales often face high wildfire risk. Insurance companies, reeling from recent losses, are restricting capacity in many of these locations. This is resulting in both non-renewals and limited options for coverage. Insurance companies are becoming more reluctant to write policies for luxury homes in the forested areas of California, Colorado, and other wildfire-prone regions.
This current insurance environment calls for talking with your insurance broker about these questions, so you can identify coverage gaps and explore options for getting the protection you need and want.
The 2021 Marshall Fire destroyed 1,084 homes, including those of HNW families. Fewer than 10% of homeowners in these areas “had insurance guaranteeing coverage for the entire cost to rebuild.”
Over time, prices change for building materials and labor. The pandemic affected supply chains globally, causing shortages and delays. Demand outstripped supply, driving up prices. When you add inflation to the mix, construction in 2023 costs much more than it did five years ago. The appraisal to determine a sales price isn’t the same thing as a replacement cost appraisal. You want a current estimate of how much it would cost to rebuild your home. This is the number you need for accurate insurance planning.
Properties that fare best in wildfires have these fire mitigation strategies in place:
Invite a fire prevention specialist to evaluate your property once a year. This expert can spot opportunities to make your home more resilient. Getting this evaluation and implementing the recommendations can help you in your insurance negotiations. Insurers want to see evidence of proactive risk mitigation.
Some geographic regions have robust, reliable emergency notification procedures. Other do not. Learn what’s available in your area. You may need to opt in to receive emergency alerts. Do not assume the police or fire department will automatically reach out. Some older “reverse 9-1-1” systems only contact landlines automatically. Homeowners must enroll their cellular and satellite phones to get notifications.
Dramatic landscapes have long attracted real estate investment. Unfortunately, wildfire does not spare exclusive zip codes. The opening scenario in this article could happen to you. Planning is key for safeguarding your family and giving your property the best chance of surviving a fire.
For more information or risk management consultations:
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Connect with the Risk Strategies Private Client Services team at email@example.com.
About the authors
Alison Murphy, Managing Director of Private Client Services National Practice, tailors insurance and risk management solutions for HNW individuals and families. This includes advising families on how to manage and mitigate wildfire risks.
Amy Hahn, a Certified Fire Protection Specialist (CFPS), assists HNW homeowners in identifying property-related wildfire risks and helps develop strategies to mitigate those risks.