"In the past five years, Southern California has seen major wild fires in San Diego, Orange County, Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. Thousands of residents have experienced the trauma of evacuating their homes, not knowing if they would have a home when they returned," said Cortland Ray, the Auto Club's vice president for insurance claims. "While most of them did not experience losses, these prior disasters, and the current drought, make it clear that Southern Californians need to make sure they have planned for emergencies such as this."
Ray added that consumers need to be aware of their insurance policies and what they cover. Homeowners insurance through the Auto Club, for example, is one of the few to offer an Advantage option with Guaranteed Replacement Cost, meaning that covered damage to a qualifying home built after 1950 will be repaired even if the cost is higher than the stated coverage amount of the policy. This enhanced coverage option will also pay up to $25,000 to repair or replace covered property with equivalent materials that meets environmentally responsible and energy-efficient standards as well as provide $25,000 in identify theft protection.
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 or other combustible material against the home or other structures. Stack firewood/combustible material 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.
- Learn about creating a defensible space around your property of between 30-100 feet by following local fire agency recommendations. Create a safety zone at least 30 feet from all structures by removing all flammable vegetation. When clearing brush or plants, remember to do so in the morning, when temperatures are cooler and wind is less. Avoid using tools that could create a spark on dry brush.
- 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 and providing insurance services since 1912. Today, the Auto Club's members benefit by roadside assistance, insurance products and services, travel agency, 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 http://www.AAA.com.