Protecting Real Estate IRA Properties from Wildfire Risk

This month’s devastating fires in Northern California are heartbreaking to behold. As of this writing, fires in Santa Rosa and surrounding areas have taken the lives of at least 15 people and destroyed some 1,500 structures within just 12 hours. Hundreds of homes have been totally destroyed, as have a number of vineyards and wineries as at least 115,000 acres have gone up in flames. Thousands have been forced to evacuate.

Real Estate IRA investors need to take steps to protect their investments (and their tenants) against the risk of wildfires. Here are some actions you or your property manager can take to lessen risk to your retirement security and more importantly, safeguard the lives of your tenants.

  • Create a defensible space around the Real Estate IRA This means eliminating possible fuel that wildfires can consume while beating a path for your property. In practice, this means clearing space at least 100 feet away from your home and other flammable structures. This defensible space is what officials at the National Fire Protection Association call the “home ignition zone.” If fire penetrates this zone, the house is likely to go next.
  • Obey evacuation orders from authorities and insist that your tenants do the same.
  • Keep the lawn mower short, especially during the summer and fall wildfire seasons for most of the country.
  • Remove lawn cuttings and other foliage debris as soon as you cut it. Don’t let dead leaves and dry cut grass pile up.
  • Trim or remove trees near the house. Eliminate dry or dead foliage. Prune branches so that none are hanging below 6 to 10 feet from the ground.
  • Clear debris from roofs, yards and gutters
  • Pull dead vegetation and other junk out from under decks. Don’t store anything under decks.
  • Clear dead vegetation and other fuel sources from within 10 feet of the home.
  • Check your roof tiles. Are any missing? Replace them. These tiles are crucial to fending off burning embers.
  • Install wire mesh in all vents – not more than 1/8th of an inch.
  • Contact your landlord’s insurance or fire insurance carrier. Some companies have teams of people that will visit your property and provide a fire risk assessment free of charge. Sometimes they will apply a fire-resistant spray coating to key areas of the home.
  • If your insurance company does not offer the site assessment service, contact to arrange one.
  • Replace mulched areas with “hardscaping.” Emphasize landscape ideas using gravel, rock and stone, rather than plants. It’s lower-maintenance anyway, once you get it in place. At a minimum, get mulch and plantings at least five feet away from the foundation.
  • Coordinate fire prevention and mitigation efforts with neighbors. The more steps your neighbors take to protect their properties, the safer your properties are, too.
  • Invest in fireproof or fire-retardant materials in all your Real Estate IRA
  • If you have plantings, use low-flammability plants.
  • Don’t stack firewood against the house.
  • Separate grasses, shrubs and trees near your home, to prevent a ‘fire ladder effect’ that can quickly transport flames to your roof.
  • Paint your street number clearly on the curb and prominently on your mailbox as well as on your home.
  • Invest in fire-resistant windows. Windows are a vital defense to fires. If a window breaks, embers can enter the home and quickly ignite flammable belongings inside like drapes and blankets.
  • Sign up for automated emergency notifications. Your homeowner’s and landlord’s insurance agent can help with this.
  • Check and double-check smoke and fire alarms in your Real Estate IRA
  • Conduct an occasional check on your property to ensure tenants aren’t creating fire hazards.
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