Wildfire Preparedness: Planning for the Worst

The 2020 wildfire season caused unprecedented damage across the western United States. Insured losses are still being calculated, but estimates range from $7 billion to $13 billion with California claiming between $5 billion to $9 billion, Oregon and Washington between $1 billion and $3 billion, and Colorado as much as $1 billion. With drought conditions prevalent across much of the western United States and wildfires already raging in the Pacific Northwest, the National Interagency Fire Center indicates that the outlook for wildfires in coming years continues to be forecasted in the above normal range.

What can you do? 

1. Understand your risk. How vulnerable is your area? How likely is a fire to occur? The USDA Forest Service Wildfire Risk to Communities provides an interactive, searchable view that describes the likelihood of a wildfire occurring in a particular community. Enter the name of your community in the data viewer and you are part way to understanding your exposure. The next step is to understand what you can do to reduce the direct impact of wildfire by creating and maintaining a defensible space around your home or business and incorporating hardening principles.

2. Prepare for potential fires. Managing the risk associated with wildfire requires acting long before the fire breaks out. Pre-planning and preparation can make all the difference in the outcome. Consider downloading and following guidelines available from The Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety and follow USDA Forest Service preparedness guidelines:

  • Prepare and practice a wildfire evacuation plan
  • Prepare an emergency kit
  • Back up critical data to off-site storage
  • Subscribe to local emergency notification and evacuation systems
  • Monitor evolving situations and do not hesitate to follow instructions from local authorities: if evacuation orders are anticipated, prepare your clinic in advance; if ordered to evacuate, do so immediately and follow FEMA recommendations.

3. Take an active role in prevention. Human activity causes roughly 9 out of 10 wildfires. Learn what role you can play in wildfire prevention and engage with local education and prevention initiatives. Community prevention and education resources are available through the National Wildfire Coordinating Group.

If there's no active wildfire in your area but smoke from nearby fires is causing a negative impact, familiarize yourself with smoke safety practices and check your local air quality using AirNow.