How to Prepare for Flood after Fire
Rain after a wildfire may seem like a welcome event. After all, climate change has led to an increase in wildfire frequency, season length, and burned area, and has doubled the number of large fires between 1984 and 2015.
However, wildfires leave the ground charred and unable to absorb water, creating conditions for flash flooding and mudflows. Burned areas are most susceptible to flash floods within the first two years after a fire, but studies show that it takes up to 80 years for soil to completely recover from wildfire disturbances – much longer than previously thought.
In the height of wildfire season, preparing for flooding might be the last thing on your mind, but it’s important you have plans in place to protect your property. Here are three ways to prepare for flooding after fires.
1. Update Your Emergency Plan
If you’re located in an area prone to wildfires, you likely have a thorough evacuation plan for when your property is in danger because of spreading flames. Given the increase of floods after fires, it’s critical you have a flash flood emergency plan as well.
The likelihood of flooding can depend on the terrain, how much time the ground has had to heal, vegetation regrowth, and the severity of the fire’s impact on the landscape. But as little as half an inch of rainfall in less than an hour is sufficient to cause flash flooding in a burn area. That means you’ll need to act fast in the event of flash floods and have a plan in place.
To prepare for flooding, keep emergency equipment, like radios and flashlights, in working condition – and above ground level. You should also identify an evacuation route that is not likely to be impacted by flash flooding or debris flows.
If you’re in an at-risk area for floods after fires, pack your personal belongings for an extended time away from your home. You may not have much time between the two weather events.
2. Prepare Your Property
Key to preparing your property for the damage a post-fire flood can do is understanding the risk you face. There are multiple factors that impact whether wildfires will increase the risk of flooding, including…
- The strength and frequency of wildfires during a typical season. More fires and stronger fires increase the risk of flash floods.
- The steepness of the terrain. Steeper slopes mean bigger risks.
- The proximity of the fire to population centers. The closer a fire burns to a populated area, the more likely it is to lead to flood damage.
- The quality of local infrastructure. The first three items are largely outside human control, but infrastructure is something communities can adjust to improve outcomes for everyone.
If you live in an area with a high risk of post-fire flash flooding, preparing your property can mitigate the damage a flood causes. That preparation should include the following steps:
- Clear basements and first-level floors of anything that can be damaged by water.
- Line sandbags against doors and windows.
- Board doors and windows.
- Elevate the furnace or water heater if possible.
Remember that you may not have a lot of time between a wildfire and a flood. This means it’s best to have flood-preparation materials on hand now so you can quickly secure your property when you get a flood warning.
3. Make Sure You Have Appropriate Coverage
You’re likely well aware of the importance of wildfire insurance. As wildfires increase in strength and frequency and the affected areas become more vulnerable to flash flooding and debris flows, you may want to consider flood insurance as well.
Just one inch of water in your home can cause up to $25,000 in damage. Unfortunately, you can expect even more damage caused by floods that follow wildfires. Because the water is not absorbed into the ground, floods after wildfires are typically more extensive than floods before wildfires.
Buying flood insurance is one of the best ways to protect yourself from financial loss when a flood happens, because flood damage is not covered in a standard homeowners insurance policy.
As Extreme Weather Worsens, Protect Your Home
Climate change is causing an increase in unusual weather events. It’s more important than ever to prepare for unexpected storms. Even if the area you live in has not been susceptible to post-wildfire floods in the past, it’s time to reassess your risk.
Reach out to your local city or state government to find out what resources are available to you. Or, if you’d like to learn more, check out our resources about flood preparedness.