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7 Ways to Protect Your Home from Wildfires

New materials, landscaping can help prevent fires from spreading

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​Wildfires — and the havoc they create — are on the rise. ​

Fires are now common in many parts of the country, sweeping across hillsides, turning homes to ash and leaving lost lives behind. While the threat of wildfires used to wax and wane, residents in fire-prone areas now need to stay vigilant throughout the year. ​

​If it seems that there are more wildfires leaving behind more destruction than ever, it’s true. The area burned by wildfires has increased each year since the 1980s, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. ​

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In 2022, 68,988 wildfires burned 7.6 million acres of land nationally, according to the National Interagency Coordination Center annual report. That’s up from 58,985 burning 7.1 million acres in 2021. ​

“There’s no longer a fire season,” says architect Don Ruthroff, founding principal at Design Story Spaces, who is on the wildfire subcommittee of the California Building Industry Association. “It’s now year-round. California keeps firefighting teams ready all year.”​

Ways to minimize damage

Each year, the U.S. government spends about $2.5 billion on fire suppression on federal lands alone, according to the Congressional Budget Office. In California, for example, the Bay Area Council Economic Institute estimates the 2020 wildfire season produced between $5 billion and $9 billion in destruction. The costs aren’t just financial — wildfires cause loss of business, negatively impact vegetation and create poor air quality, increasing respiratory and health issues. ​

A warming climate and more people living in or near undeveloped wildland vegetation — known as the wildland urban interface — is part of the problem. ​

While many wildfires occur in the western part of the United States — California, Montana, Oregon and Washington state topped the list in 2021 — wildfires now pop up all over the U.S. In April, a wildfire in West Milford, New Jersey, burned 972 acres. In May, active wildfires were reported in Florida, Massachusetts, North Carolina and New Mexico, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

“We always need to be prepared for wildfires,” says Molly Mowery, executive director of the Community Wildfire Planning Center, based in Colorado. “It’s a national and ongoing issue.” ​

Despite the dangers, Ruthroff, 60, who grew up in the San Fernando Valley and has seen his share of fires, says there are things homeowners can do to minimize the damage. ​

After Bud Besch’s home in Santa Rosa, California, was turned to ash by the 2017 Tubbs Fire, the 96-year-old decided to rebuild his Mediterranean-style house but with fire prevention in mind. With Ruthroff’s guidance, the new house was constructed with fire-resistant products, such as tempered windows, stucco walls, fire-resistant attic ventilation, concrete S-tile roofing (the rounded, burnished red tiles typically seen on Mediterranean-style homes) and fire-resistant landscaping: decorative stones, native species, low shrubs, bushes and evergreen ground cover.​

“I’m going to pray this is the end of fires in our beautiful subdivision,” Besch says. ​

Each town or municipality may have its own rules regarding wildfire protection. A good way to find out how to make your home more fire resistant is to contact your state forest service, local fire department or planning office, Mowery says. These agencies may even offer site-specific wildfire assessments about your unique home and landscaping, she says. ​

Another way to check your wildfire risk is through, developed by First Street Foundation, an organization dedicated to helping people understand climate risk. ​

Here are some other ways to prevent your home from being damaged by wildfires: ​


1. Clear the perimeter

Experts encourage homeowners in fire-prone areas to create a “defensible space,” a 5-foot radius around a home. Wind-blown embers can collect and cause damage in this space. ​

“You want an ember-resistant zone,” says Alister Watt, chief product officer for the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety, a research organization that tests building structures against wind-driven rain, hail and wildfire.​

That 5-foot perimeter should not have anything combustible in it — such as landscaping plants — even under a deck. Many homeowners fill the space with gravel or decorative stones. ​ ​

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2. Use plants that are more firesafe than others

Keep in mind, there are no true fire-resistant plants since any dead or dried-out plants make great tinder and should be removed throughout the year. ​

But if you do want plants in the area 5 to 30 feet from the house,’s Retrofit Guide suggests incorporating only a few into the landscape and grouping them in islands with gaps in between to avoid creating a path for fire to follow.​

Choose plants that have high leaf-moisture content such as succulents, salvia, monkey flower and rhododendron. ​As for bushes and trees, opt for nonoily, deciduous trees (those that drop their leaves) with large leaves and/or a high water content. In the West, that might be native redwoods, maples, citrus, dogwood or ash.​

Home structure

3. Replace siding

New homes in California, for example, are now largely built with noncombustible material, such as stucco or a cement-based product like fiber cement, which won’t ignite or burn. ​

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Keep in mind that the space between the ground and the house is an area likely to collect embers during a fire. If your existing home has combustible siding like cedar or vinyl, you’ll need at least a 6-inch portion from the ground up built with a product that won’t burn, such as concrete.

4. Get a fire-resistant roof

Roofs made of concrete or clay tile, fiberglass asphalt composition shingles or metal are the most fire resistant, according to the retrofit guide. A cedar shake roof gets the worst rating for fire. If you’re retrofitting an existing roof to try and fend off fire damage, Ruthroff says a roofer will need to determine whether your roof can handle the weight of concrete or other tiles. ​

Regardless of roof type, make sure to check for spaces (like between the roof and the eaves) where rodents or birds might have literally squirreled away debris — which can easily ignite. This material can compromise your roof’s fire rating. ​

5. Screen outdoor vents

Vents from attics, gables or under the eaves are a prime spot for embers to creep in. “Ninety percent of homes are ignited by embers. Most people have a big wall of fire in their heads when they imagine this, but embers can come from miles away,” Watt says. He recommends putting a screen with 1/8-inch openings over vents. “Take a golf tee, and if it goes through the screen’s hole, it’s too big,” he says. ​

6. Invest in tempered glass windows

Extreme heat from a wildfire will cause glass to break. Tempered glass windows, which are heat treated, will “shatter in place and shatter at a higher temperature when exposed to fire,” Ruthroff says.​

Insurance​ ​

7. Check your auto and homeowners policies

Besch was lucky — he had home insurance that helped him rebuild. But that’s not the case for many homeowners, Ruthroff says. Even if your insurance covers rebuilding post-fire, "make sure you have enough insurance money to rebuild a home at today’s value,” he says. ​

A standard homeowners policy should cover wildfire destruction and damage to your home and outbuildings, according to the Insurance Information Institute. The policy should also cover your belongings and reimburse you for living expenses while you’re displaced. Check your auto insurance in regard to any vehicle damage. ​

One thing to be aware of: Because wildfires have become so prevalent, many insurers are dropping coverage. This has sent consumers running to options such as the FAIR Plan, a pool of insurers that provides basic fire insurance for high-risk properties. Unfortunately, this option can be expensive and may provide only limited coverage. ​ ​​

Video: How To Use A Fire Extinguisher

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