Although the traditional wildfire season is the hot, dry summer and early autumn months, that season has been extended as a result of climate change, more development in the wildland urban interface (WUI) and a buildup of fuel for wildfires, among other causes.
Although wildfires more often occur in the central and western states, they can occur in all states. This month wildfires have been reported in Kansas, where 12,000 acres burned, in eastern North Carolina mostly in a wildlife refuge area, and in Florida.
Florida has been fighting three fires recently—all in the Panhandle. There have been evacuations from over 1000 homes in the affected areas. While recent rain has helped firefighters to fight the fires, an estimated three million acres of timber that fell during Hurricane Michael is helping to fuel the wildfire. Hurricane Michael was a category 5 and was the strongest hurricane to hit the Florida Panhandle.
As more people move to the areas that abut undeveloped wildland, this increases the number of homes, businesses and communities at risk of wildfires. The shift of increased building in the WUI is due to the desire to be further from the more expensive built-up areas, to be closer to nature, to have more privacy and more room. The U.S. Forest Service has historic mapping of this shift.
California officials are discussing requiring insurers to provide a wildfire risk score and the California DOI offers “Safer from Wildfires” that provides recommendations for making homes in California less prone to fire.
One of the ways to mitigate wildfires is to remove the buildup of fuel—fallen trees, underbrush, overgrown vegetation—through controlled burns. These can only be done during certain conditions. Attempts to do controlled burns in Colorado have become more difficult with less snowfall and shorter winters. The controlled burns are meant to reduce the amount of fuel that a wildfire would have and thus reducing the wildfire risk. Utah is also planning controlled burns and clearing brush in vulnerable areas.
The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) provides Disaster Prep Guides, a home inventory form and other helpful information for consumers.
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