Wildfire Risk in Vacation Rentals: What You Need to Know

Planning an idyllic vacation with your friends can include reserving a vacation rental on a Malibu hillside overlooking the ocean or surrounded by pine trees on Lake Tahoe.

As he prepares for his trip, Los Angeles Fire Department Deputy Chief Trevor Richmond wants wildfire safety on his checklist.

An analysis by the Los Angeles Times found that thousands of Airbnb rentals in California operate in areas with high levels of wildfire danger, as identified by Cal Fire.

“During natural disasters, we send potentially affected hosts and guests emergency notifications that include links to the most up-to-date guidance from local emergency management authorities so they can prioritize their personal safety,” an Airbnb spokesperson said.

The company offers home safety workshops for Airbnb hosts. These workshops are intended to “encourage hosts to think carefully about their responsibilities and how to be a responsible host, including practicing fire safety by having a working smoke alarm, complying with government safety guidelines and regulations for your area and more,” the spokesperson said. .

However, Airbnb and other vacation rental platforms don’t regularly alert guests when a rental is in a wildfire zone, so you’ll need to do your research.

Richmond said short-term renters need to be aware of how to reduce dangers, even when they’re in vacation mode.

Firefighters are going to “punch hard from the air; we’ll be hitting hard from the ground. We are going to do everything we can to stop the fire,” Richmond said. “But we’re relying on the help of the community to pay attention, be smart and get out of the area quickly.”

So here’s how you can research the potential for a disaster and what to do if it happens the next time you stay in a vacation rental.

Where is your rent?

To determine if a vacation rental is in a fire hazard zone, check the location of the property on Cal Fire’s state map of fire hazard severity zones.

The State Fire Marshal’s Office created a fire severity zone map in 2007. It determines the severity of the fire danger in each zone. A key factor is how close homes are to burn-prone wilderness areas.

Enter an address or city on the Cal Fire map to see if a property is in a very high, high, or moderate area.

On the Airbnb website, a listing’s address is generally not revealed until the reservation is confirmed. But the general location of a list is shared on a map, so you can use that.

In your vacation rental

When you arrive, look around and see if there are any bushes or other plants near the house or hanging over a roof or chimney. Weeds and grass should be no taller than three inches. That’s not to say you should start cutting weeds or clearing brush while on vacation, but your knowledge could come in handy if a fire breaks out nearby.

And if one does, Richmond said, move flammable lawn furniture into a garage or away from the house. If the host left a pile of firewood next to the house, he put it at a certain distance.

In general, ask yourself if there is anything near the building that is flammable. If so, take it as far as possible.

“A fire is not going to make a distinction between a manzanita or lawn plant and lawn furniture,” Richmond said. “If it burns, it burns.”

When do forest fires occur?

Last year, the Times reported that record levels of dry vegetation during the summer months were a common factor in many of 2021’s largest fires. Dry vegetation, caused by long-term drought and heat waves to In the short term, it makes it easier for fires to start and spread at any time of the year.

But September, October and November, in particular, are months when brush and other fuels have dried up after a hot summer and Santa Anas or other hot, dry winds create the conditions for fires to get out of control.

“Technically we don’t have fire season because wildfires can burn at any time, but we do have certain times of the year when [we have a] heightened sense of awareness because we know fires can grow very quickly,” Richmond said.

Vacation renters should be alert when there is a combination of hot, dry and windy weather.

Stay informed and receive notifications

If you are staying in the Los Angeles area, you can download apps and sign up for evacuation warnings and orders. Keep in mind that a warning means to prepare to evacuate and an order means to leave immediately. Here are some:

  • Alert Los Angeles County: Register your phone number or email address on the county website to receive countywide emergency or disaster alerts from the Sheriff’s Department.
  • Notify LA: Register your phone number or email through the City of Los Angeles website to receive public health advisories, evacuation orders, and early warnings by phone, email, or text message.
  • nixle: Sign up to receive text messages and phone calls from local law enforcement agencies throughout Los Angeles County.
  • Pay attention to local news to stay up to date, Richmond said. The LA Times maintains a regularly updated California fire map.

According to a Times analysis, certain cities have rules that require Airbnb hosts to alert guests to the possibility of a wildfire or other safety issues.

For example, the Los Angeles Shared Housing Ordinance says that a host whose listing is in the highest fire hazard area must post in their listing and on the site that outdoor smoking is prohibited. Another example is Malibu, where hosts are required to post a code of conduct in rental units, notifying guests of the city’s proximity to a fire hazard area, the evacuation zone listed, and the website. the city for information on evacuations.

If it is necessary to evacuate, the county and city where your rental is located will have evacuation plans or safety protocols. For example, Los Angeles County activates its Los Angeles County Emergency Website when two or more county departments are responding to an emergency incident that poses a threat to life, property, or the environment. The site features evacuations, human shelters, animal shelters, health alerts, road closures, and press releases. You can also access Los Angeles County evacuation information by calling 211.

In an evacuation, anticipate traffic and give yourself plenty of time to get out.

Richmond said the 1991 Oakland Hills fire is an example of people waiting too long to flee. Twenty-five people died in that fire, at the time the worst in California history. In one case, someone stopped her car and went for a walk, Richmond said, leaving people behind her with no way to get down the hill.

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