Homeowners in the Centennial State are familiar with insurance risks. Colorado homes are subject to torrential rain and hail, fierce lightning, driving snow, and freezing temperatures for months on end.
Insuring against these perils can be a challenge. Responsible homeowners accept that challenge to protect their family’s single greatest investment, their home.
Colorado ranks third in homes at risk from wildfires. In fact, as of the 2010 U.S. Census, 366,200, or 17 percent, of the state’s homes are in areas of high or extreme risk from wildfire.
Although Colorado homeowners insurance policies cover losses to a home’s structure and contents, residential development in wildlands areas has added some new requirements. Homeowners who fail to recognize them run the risk of losing their insurance, or not having a loss covered.
Wildland Urban Interface Areas
As of 2012 6.6 million acres in Colorado have been designated as Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) areas. The expansion of housing into these formerly remote regions has forced insurance companies and homeowners to address the expanded risk of wildfire.
Wildfires are nothing new. They have always been a part of the ecosystem balance that occurs naturally. They keep forests healthy and encourage new and restorative growth.
What is new is the amount of human development in areas where there is a high risk of wildfire. With the rapid growth around Colorado cities, many homeowners may not even know that they are in a WUI area or may simply ignore the information. That can be a costly mistake.
A Path of Devastation
We have all seen the images on the news — entire neighborhoods gone in a column of smoke and flame — homeowners standing in a yard with a garden hose trying to save their house as a wall of flame approaches — residents forced to flee with what few possessions they can carry away.
The truth is that despite their best efforts, once a wildfire is out of control, there is little a fire department can do. Wind and heat coupled with the available fuel your home provides can make a wild fire spread at a frightening pace.
Unlike a kitchen fire or an electrical outlet that smolders, once nature takes over and drives a fire before it, there may be little time to prevent it from reaching your home. Wildfires leave a blackened path of devastation when they come into contact with residential development.
Mitigating the Risk
As the danger of loss to wildfire increases, some homeowners may find insurance costs rising as companies try to offset the risk. Others may have difficulty finding a company to insure their home.
Increasingly, insurers of homes in WUI areas require homeowners to accept some responsibility in mitigating the risk of loss from wildfire. Homeowners in WUIs who fail to comply with their insurance policy mitigation requirements can lose their coverage.
Common wildfire mitigation strategies homeowners may see in their policies include:
Create a Defensible Space
Remove debris and flammable vegetation from around your home. If they ignite, so will your home. A defensible space of 30 to 200 feet is recommended, depending on the size of vegetation and trees.
Never store gasoline, propane, wood piles or other flammables near the main structure. Keep them at least thirty feet away.
Use Fire Retardant Construction Materials
If you are building a home, make sure your design includes fire retardant materials. Avoid wood siding and shake shingles on roofs.
If you already own a home in a Wildland Urban Interface area, make reasonable changes. Roofing should have a Class A fire classification. Make sure chimneys are cleaned regularly to avoid fire flares and ensure that chimney outlets are covered with spark arresting mesh.
Don’t Ignore the Hazard
Ensuring that your home and contents are adequately insured is the first step towards protecting your family’s investment. Find out if your home is in a Wildland Urban Interface area and have a mitigation plan. Remember, ignoring a hazard is not a reasonable strategy for protecting your home and family.