Cooler temperatures and welcome rain arrived recently and briefly in our state, but for the past few months, Oklahoma has been hot, dry and in many places, ablaze. Drought has turned most of the state into a tinderbox in which a carelessly discarded cigarette or the slightest spark can start a wildfire that rages for days.
Thousands of acres have burned in Oklahoma this year. Hundreds of homes have been damaged or destroyed. Millions of dollars in insured losses have been reported. At least five deaths have been attributed to wildfires, including that of Perry Fire Capt. Kyle King, who was hospitalized but never recovered after collapsing on July 29 while fighting a grass fire in temperatures above 100 degrees.
That’s why the Oklahoma Insurance Department has joined with several other organizations to promote the “Ready, Set, Go!” campaign to promote better wildfire preparedness and response. I was among the speakers at a press conference at the Capitol on Sept. 22, unveiling the initiative in Oklahoma. Also speaking were Assistant State Fire Marshal JoAnne Sellars, Norman Deputy Fire Chief Jim Bailey and Mark Goeller, Fire Management Chief for Oklahoma Forestry Services.
Each of us delivered brief remarks on our areas of expertise. The overall message, however, is just as the program’s name suggests:
Ready – Prepare for the fire threat; be “fire-wise.”
Set – Situational awareness when a fire begins is crucial.
Go – Simply put, leave early.
Take personal responsibility for fire preparation long before a blaze begins. Many of the homes lost to wildfires were built in areas that have become known as the “Wildland Urban Interface.” These are single homes, subdivisions or small developments in semi-rural areas where the city meets the countryside – areas also prone to wildfires.
While shade and privacy are valued commodities on such a property, create a defensible space by clearing brush and tall grass away from your home. Use fire-resistant landscaping and “harden” your home with fire-safe construction measures. Assemble emergency supplies and key belongings in a safe spot. Make sure all residents of the home are aware of escape routes.
From an insurance perspective, be “Ready” by reviewing your policy annually to make sure you have enough coverage to rebuild your home in the current construction market, and preparing a comprehensive inventory of your personal property to speed the claims process and receive the full reimbursement you are due should your home be lost to fire.
When a wildfire sparks, get “Set” to respond by packing your vehicle with emergency items. Stay aware of the latest news from local media and your local fire department to be updated on the fire’s progress.
Finally, be ready and willing to “Go!” when the call to evacuate is sent. Following the action plan you’ve made to escape the home and neighborhood before the fire threat to your residence has reached a critical state keeps you and your family safe while clearing the way for firefighters to do their jobs.
Partners in the “Ready, Set, Go!” program for wildland fire preparedness are the International Association of Fire Chiefs, the Firewise Communities Program, the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety, the United States Department of the Interior, the United States Fire Administration and the United States Forest Service. Local fire departments are encouraged to participate in the program, and can sign up at http://wildlandfirersg.org/.
The “Ready, Set, Go!” program will provide departments with various implementation guides, briefing documents, presentation tools, recommendations for best practices, and other resources to educate the communities they defend about wildfire preparation and response. And the best news is that the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (http://www.disastersafety.org/) has grants available through the International Association of Fire Chiefs providing direct funding of up to $1,000 to provide public education materials to local fire departments with budgets that are already cash-strapped from fighting these relentless wildland blazes.
Oklahomans must be prepared for the threat of wildfires, and the “Ready, Set, Go!” program delivers this crucial message to homeowners. Please take heed.
If you have suffered losses to a wildfire or other cause and have insurance-related concerns or questions, visit the Oklahoma Insurance Department online at oid.ok.gov, or call our Consumer Assistance team at 1-800-522-0071.