(LOS ANGELES, May 11, 2007) — The recent Southern California wildfires, along with the announcement that a major insurer will no longer underwrite new homeowner policies in the state due to fire risk, have created concern among many consumers about protecting their families and assets in a fire. To assist homeowners, the Automobile Club of Southern California has developed a list of fire and disaster prevention and protection tips.
"Thousands of residents throughout Southern California have experienced the trauma of evacuating their homes this week, not knowing if they would have a home when they returned," said Jim Gilmartin, the Auto Club's senior vice president for insurance services. "While most of them did not experience losses, these disasters make it clear that Southern Californians need to make sure they have planned for emergencies such as this."
Gilmartin added that consumers need to be aware of their insurance policies and what they cover. The Auto Club, for example, is one of the few insurers to offer guaranteed replacement cost at no additional charge, meaning that covered damage to a home built after 1950 will be repaired even if the cost is higher than the stated coverage amount of the policy. Homeowners can also obtain optional Building Ordinance and Law coverage, which will cover the cost of repairs based on current building codes in the event of a covered loss.
The Auto Club offers the following tips for families in developing a disaster plan:
- Locate two ways out of each room in the house.
- Develop a family evacuation plan with two escape routes out of your neighborhood.
- Chose an out-of-area location where the family should meet following the evacuation.
- Distribute two phone numbers of two people to family members. Family members can then call these numbers during an emergency and report their locations — plus find out locations of other family members.
- Teach children about fire safety.
- Post emergency fire numbers near all phones.
To reduce the likelihood of fire loss, the Auto Club advises homeowners to:
- Make sure your home is accessible to emergency vehicles. Mark driveway entrances, and post your house number so it can be easily seen.
- Select building materials that resist fire. Use fire-resistant or noncombustible material — such as tile, stucco, brick, stone and metal siding — on the structure's exterior, including the roof.
- Clear roof, eaves, and gutters of all debris, such as leaves and branches.
- Remove branches that overhang the roof.
- Identify an adequate outside water source — such as a hydrant, pond or swimming pool — that can be used in an emergency to combat the wildfire.
- Keep a garden hose that is long enough to reach all areas of your home and other structures on your property.
- Consider installing fire sprinklers inside your home.
- Do not store firewood against the home or other structures. Stack firewood at least 30 feet from your house.
Dried vegetation is the major fuel for wildfires. To protect your property, the Auto Club advises:
- When landscaping, plant fire-resistant trees and shrubs and ground cover (hardwood trees and ice plant, for example) to reduce the spread of fire. This will make it less likely for plants to catch fire and spread the fire closer to your home.
- Create a safety zone at least 30 feet from all structures by removing all flammable vegetation.
- Remove all vines from your home and structures. Even live and healthy vines can spread fire very rapidly.
- Regularly mow and water all lawns.
- Keep your property free of debris, such as leaves, fallen branches and twigs. This will help reduce fire fuel.
- Trim trees regularly and remove all dead branches. Keep limbs trimmed so that they do not come in contact with electrical wires and are at least 15 feet from the chimney.
- Have a professional tree service remove the limbs of mature, full-size trees within six to 10 feet from the ground. Also, thin the crowns.
The Automobile Club of Southern California, the largest member of the AAA federation of motor clubs, has been serving Southern California since 1900. Today, the Auto Club's members benefit by roadside assistance, insurance products and services, travel agency, financial products, automotive pricing and buying programs, automotive testing and analysis, trip planning services and highway and transportation safety programs. Information about these products and services is available on the Auto Club's Web site at www.AAA.com.