Wildfires: Preparing Your Family and Property Ahead of Disaster

Date: Oct 05 2018

Deserie Thigpen, ANS, Vice President, Head of Loss Prevention, AIG Private Client Group

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. -Benjamin Franklin

You’ve seen the news- wildfires are becoming a common occurrence. So much so that the term “megafire” is in the common vernacular. Wildfires used to spring up every few years in the Western U.S., but now they seem to be burning year-round. In fact, climatologists are predicting they will become even more frequent in the coming decades and possibly in locations we’d least suspect. So, what can we do to mitigate the risks to our families and property? We sat down with FOX member, Deserie Thigpen, Vice President and Head of Loss Prevention at AIG Private Client Group, to get some tips on how to protect our loved ones and property.

FOX: Explain the importance of an evacuation plan in the event of a wildfire. What should families keep in mind?

Deserie: One obvious reason is life safety. If you prepare now, you gain peace of mind and confidence that you can evacuate properly and safely. Also, if you have a well-rehearsed plan in place you can clear out of your residence faster when asked by authorities. It’s important that people evacuate when told; the longer they wait, the more the risk of loss of life—not only for families, but for responders as well.

FOX: What should families consider about their valuables or art work during an evacuation? 

Deserie: Planning is important here as well. It’s extremely tough to find qualified people to move these items during a wildfire, as most are already tied up with other evacuations. Secure them in advance, but also get household or family office staff involved. Have crates prepared and labeled so staff can move items and ready them for transport. Train staff on simple yet important things, such as closing windows, shutting off the gas, turning on lights, etc.

FOX: What do I do about my horses during a wildfire?

Deserie: If you are caught off guard and unprepared, it’s extremely difficult to evacuate horses. That being said, if you opt to shelter in place, you need to create a safe location that is fire prepared (here’s a list of tips for horse owners).

FOX: Speaking of creating a safe location, what should homeowners think about when fireproofing their homes?

Deserie: Maintenance should be sustained year-round. Simple things, like keeping gutters and roofs clear of flammable debris such as leaves and pine needles, are very important. People often don’t realize that windblown embers are the main cause of fires— not the flames of the wildfire. The horizontal surface of a roof is your home’s first line of defense, but it is very large. Embers can land and easily ignite accumulated debris. Also make sure the vents on the roof or home are clear of debris. Install after-market ember resistant vents, such as Brandguard, to enhance protection. Also consider landscaping. Italian cypress trees and wood mulch are popular but quite challenging; if not properly maintained or if placed too close to the home, they can easily catch fire with contact from falling embers. Consider replacing mulch with rock or gravel, which can act as a barrier to prevent the spread of fire.

FOX: Is it just families out west that should be thinking about wildfires?

Deserie: Unfortunately, no. Wildfires can happen almost anywhere. Texas, North Carolina and Georgia rank in the top four states for number of acres burned. People in areas where fires are not common may not be aware that they’re vulnerable. Forested areas may seem like obvious candidates for fires, but grasses anywhere near a home can also be fuel for a fire and need to be mowed whenever possible. Junipers and evergreen trees are usually planted by homeowners because they are drought resistant; ironically, they are dry and can easily lead to fire. 


Learn more on how to plan and protect families from wildfires by visiting the resources below.



Deserie Thigpen is the Vice President of Loss Prevention Services for AIG Private Client Group, which provides property and liability insurance solutions for high net worth individuals and families. Deserie has more than 20 years of experience in affluent personal lines insurance and more than 30 years of experience in customer service and management. She spearheaded AIG Private Client Group’s California brush underwriting initiative and is considered the in-house subject matter expert on wildfire mitigation. 

Free Download: Approaching Personal and Physical Security with a Risk-Based Perspective