Forest Fire Liability. Who’s at Fault?

Limiting Your Liability for a Forest Fire

If you live anywhere in the state of Washington, you know the affects forest fires have on our entire state. There are a variety of ways fires start. During the summer of 2021 88% of all forest fires in our state where started by people, either through negligence or intentionally set.  Lightening was blamed for 12% of forest fires. 

There are things property owners can do to limit their potential damage and liability for a forest fire on their property by using prescribed burning practices. Additional things to consider are: Endogenous risk, Insurance claims, and damages. Using prescribed burning practices will help protect your property and save you from paying a large bill when a forest fire starts.

Properly prescribed burning practices reduce liability for a forest fire

Properly prescribed burning practices can reduce your liability if a forest fire occurs. Fire experts recommend that you start a controlled burn at the appropriate time of year to ensure that the air quality is optimal. A good time to burn is when the temperatures are mild, and the resulting smoke and fumes do not contaminate the air. It also helps to restore ecosystem health. Prescribed burning is an effective method of reducing wildfire risks and improving wildlife habitats, timber growth, and agricultural forage.

Some states have adopted laws to encourage prescribed burning. The Department of Resources in Washington State has a Prescribed Fire Program for land owners to learn about the importance of these burns and how to do it safely.  Liability laws and common regulations can affect the frequency of prescribed fires. The results show that strict liability laws and regulations reduce forest fire liability in many states, but they still have some limitations.

A written burn plan, proper equipment, and following the prescribed burn plan are also good ways to reduce liability. Properly prescribed burning practices can also help limit your liability if a fire escapes.

Endogenous risk of Forest Fires

Developing policies to reduce the extent of large-scale natural disturbances is a difficult task. It requires integrating biophysical and social risk systems to determine the most effective forest management strategy. Such policies should address the need to manage forest fuels in ways that minimize high-severity fire while meeting socioeconomic and ecosystem services demands. Endogenous risk for a forest fire is a significant issue for the western US.

The study examined how human perceptions of risk are influenced by the intensity and timing of forest fires. Studies show that humans feel that they have little control over the start or spread of fires, but the opposite is in fact true.  Human perception of risk is largely disconnected from the natural system, so any miscalculations could lead to disastrous environmental outcomes.

While most modeling studies have focused on one category of causation, recent research has highlighted the interaction between the human and natural sectors. The interdependence between these sectors explains the cyclical pattern of wildfires.

Damages Related to Forest Fires

Damages from a forest fire can be devastating to property. Luckily, computer technology has made it possible to quickly assess the extent of damage. Aerial images recorded from an aircraft are used along with GIS (Geographic Information System), coordinate recordings, and layer overlay references to calculate the damaged area. Moreover, forestry data is collected to estimate the value and volume of the forest damaged.

To minimize damages, it is recommended to remove dry grass and stacked firewood at least 50 feet from a home. If a home is located on a hill, it should be at least 100 feet from the fire. Other measures include replacing or treating wooden decks and fencing. If your home is located in a zone prone to forest fires, you should make sure that there are no flammable materials on the roof or in any other structure.

Wildfires are devastating to property and the economy. They destroy physical capital, disrupt transportation networks, and impact the health of workers. They also cause losses in tourism and recreation. In 2018, a record-breaking number of forest fires in California destroyed over 18,000 structures – nearly half of them were homes.

In addition, the smoke from wildfires causes lost productivity even affecting areas far from the fire’s location. In fact, a 2020 research paper suggests that wildfires will cost over $40 billion annually in the United States.

Insurance claims as a Result of Forest Fires

You can make an insurance claim for damages resulting from a forest fire. The amount you can receive will depend on your policy limits. You can maximize your payment by choosing a good insurance company. There are also steps you can take after a fire to protect your property. Keep in mind that there are many factors to consider before filing a claim.

First, consider whether you have coverage for any detached structures. You can get coverage for these under your homeowners insurance policy. Generally, this coverage is limited to ten percent of your dwelling coverage. However, many insurers now offer extra coverage for these structures. Another option is to purchase additional living expense coverage, which will pay for temporary housing, food, and rental storage.

Forest fires have become more frequent and expensive. They now cost tens of billions of dollars. Increasing temperatures and droughts are contributing to the problem. Shrubbery grows quickly in hot and dry climates and is flammable. Therefore, if you live in an area at high risk of forest fires, you may not be safe unless you take steps to prevent them.  However, if a fire was intentionally started by an individual or company they could be held liable for your loss.  


If you or your property has been damaged in a fire due to someone else’s negligence give the attorneys at Evergreen Personal Injury Counsel a call.