May is Wildfire Awareness Month in Colorado - Are you Prepared?
In Colorado, wildfires have been getting bigger and when occurring, have been growing faster. The Colorado Sun reported that in 2020 there were 6,761 wildfires that burned over 744,120 acres in Colorado, with the three largest fires in the state’s history burning most of that acreage: Cameron Peak (208,913 acres), East Troublesome (193,812 acres), and Pine Gulch (139,007 acres). Already, many experts are predicting that conditions may soon have Colorado confront the same type of fire devastation that we experienced last year.
Being aware of the possibility of wildfires in your area, taking steps to help protect your home from potential fire damage, and knowing what insurance protections exist can go a long way in protecting your home and personal safety.
One important resource is the Colorado Property and Insurance Wildfire Preparedness Guide which was developed by many partners including the Division of Insurance within the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies, the Rocky Mountain Insurance Association, and Colorado Association of Realtors®. This guide will direct you to the Wildfire Mitigation Resource Center, and Colorado Project Wildfire, where you will find important information on:
- Wildfire preparation;
- Defensible space zones; and
- Wildfires and insurance.
Another resource is the Colorado State Forest Service with Colorado State University. Visiting their website on How to Protect Your Home & Property from Wildfire will provide you with information on the structural ignitability of your home (which is the likelihood that the materials in and on your home will ignite during a wildfire), how to create defensible space zones, and other preparations to mitigate the damage to your home from wildfires.
Are You in an HOA?
If you are in a homeowner’s association, the Colorado Common Interest Ownership Act (CCIOA) in §38-33.3-106.5(e), C.R.S., allows the removal by a unit owner of trees, shrubs, or other vegetation to create defensible space around a dwelling for fire mitigation purposes, so long as such removal complies with a written defensible space plan created for the property by the Colorado state forest service, an individual or company certified by a local governmental entity to create such a plan, or the fire chief, fire marshal, or fire protection district within whose jurisdiction the unit is located, and is no more extensive than necessary to comply with such plan. The plan shall be registered with the association before the commencement of work. The association may require changes to the plan if the association obtains the consent of the person, official, or agency that originally created the plan. The work shall comply with applicable association standards regarding slash removal, stump height, revegetation, and contractor regulations. For this and additional information on HOAs, visit the Division’s HOA Information and Resource Center.
Insurance Coverage & Mitigation
Many Coloradans may not need special insurance for wildfires because this type of disaster is covered under the fire damage provisions of a basic homeowners policy. However, a common complaint after a disaster like a wildfire is that people didn’t have the right kind of insurance or enough of it. The insurance coverage you need depends upon many factors, including the type of home or building you own, its contents, and whether you have a home-based business.
- Use fire-resistant materials in the structure of your home, especially the roof, which is most vulnerable.
- Clear a safety zone around your home and remove trees, leaves, brush and pine needles. Create a zone of at least 100 feet, but know that 200 – 500 feet is often recommended. Also remove overhanging tree branches near your home.
- Be sure propane or fuel tanks are at least 30 feet away from all structures.
- Keep the smoke detectors and fire extinguishers inside your home working properly.
- If you do not have access to a community water system or water hydrant, get a water storage tank. Make sure your garden hoses reach all areas of the property, and keep them visible and in accessible areas.
- Be sure your entrance road is accessible. Inaccessible roads can prevent fire-fighting equipment from reaching your home quickly. The street address should be easily visible from the entrance to the property so emergency responders are not delayed.
Reviewing Your Insurance Policy
- Understand your policy type - Actual cash value (ACV) policies cover only what the property is worth at the time it is damaged, minus the deductible. Replacement cost policies initially pay the ACV, minus the deductible, but once the property is replaced, will also pay the difference between the actual cash value and the replacement cost. Your policy should also take into account the cost of cleanup, especially after a wildfire.
- Coverage limits need to keep up - Review your policy and coverage limits annually to make sure it keeps pace with construction costs.
- Update - Keep your insurance agent or company updated on any changes to your home that will impact the coverage.
If you have questions about your insurance, the Colorado Division of Insurance has experts to help. Contact them at 303-894-7490 / 1-800-930-3745 (outside of the Denver metro area) / email: DORA_insurance@state.co.us or visit doi.colorado.gov.