Wildfires

The drought in California forced the Governor to institute a state of emergency in January, and residents are currently struggling under water rationing. The drought has had a significant effect on daily life for many Californians, and now the lack of water has impacted the state's forests as well.

On May 4, the U.S. Forest Service announced the drought had killed an estimated 12 million trees in California forests, according to PBS affiliate KPBS​ in San Diego, California. While the loss of beautiful wildlife is undoubtedly painful for residents, the increased amount of dead wood could have more dire implications. Wildfires, a perennial threat in the California area, are more likely when a large amount of dead wood is present.

Brian Fuchs, a National Drought Mitigation Center climatologist, noted the risk. "These dead forests are going to be more primed for any type of fire," he said. Clearly, California residents will need to prepare themselves and their homes for the possibility of dangerous wildfires.

While homeowners insurance provides protection from the monetary damage a fire can cause, there are many different ways residents can prepare themselves in case of a deadly blaze. Here are some tips to keep in mind if you live near the California woods:

The best offense is a good defense
Anyone who lives in an area that carries a fire risk should maintain an emergency preparedness kit in case an uncontrollable wildfire breaks out. Ready.gov explained this kit should contain medical supplies that would be useful during an emergency as well as nonperishable food items and water that will allow you and your loved ones to survive for up to 72 hours following a fire. When you construct the kit, keep in mind that emergency situations generally knock out electricity and other utilities. You will need to survive on your own during this time, and should plan accordingly.

In addition to the kit itself, establish an evacuation plan for yourself and your family members. Decide on a meeting place that will be safe during an emergency. This will help you and your family regroup if a fire occurs. National Geographic advised people to set aside specific clothing that offers protection from smoke and ashes to ensure safety during an evacuation.

Get your home in order
Before a wildfire breaks out, you'll want to prepare your home and the surrounding area to eliminate any particularly flammable elements that could direct flames toward your house. The National Fire Protection Association told homeowners to clear lawn debris out of gutters, remove leaves and other refuse from around the house and eliminate any dead plants on the property. All of these elements can provide a place for sparks to ignite, so you should regularly remove them for the utmost safety.

To prevent flammable refuse from building up underneath patios and decks, block off the area underneath these structures with lattice that keeps dried yard waste out.

If you live in the California woods, you should inspect the surrounding trees. Because of the drought, it's likely that some trees in your area have died. If that's the case, contact a professional and have these trees removed. A fire spreads much more quickly when it has dead plant life to burn.

Set things up before you leave
If you need to evacuate your home, you should take steps that can minimize the damage you find on your return. National Geographic advised homeowners to close all their home's windows and doors on the way out. This prevents a draft from sucking flames into the structure. It's also important to store flammable or explosive items far away from the home. This includes items like gas canisters for grills or anything else that could combust when exposed to too much heat.

Along those lines, it's important to shut of your home's supply of gas before evacuating. Otherwise, you could return to a building that has been decimated by an explosion rather than your cherished homestead.

What to do in a fire
If a fire does occur, you should immediately seek shelter. If the fire drives you out of your home, do not hole up in your car unless you absolutely have to. The Federal Emergency Management Agency said that a vehicle is safer than being on foot, but still not an ideal place to weather a wildfire. Luckily, you won't have to worry about a gas explosion, as the tanks in cars do not generally explode.

If you are stuck on foot, you'll want to search out depressions that will allow you to crouch in an area without a lot of burnable fuel. It's important to stay low to avoid potentially deadly smoke inhalation. Ideally, you should find a body of water and crouch in a shallows until the fire passes.

Homeowners looking to compare home insurance prices should visit CoverHound's website.

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