Serious Danger: House Fire After an Earthquake

A gas fire explosion after the 1994 Northridge earthquake in Los Angeles.

Did you participate in the Great California ShakeOut last week? We at BMR Insurance hope you did, as you will have learned a great deal on how to protect yourself, your family and your home during a quake. Remember, the scientists say not IF it happens, it’s WHEN the Big One happens…

Did you realize that after an earthquake, the fallen bookshelves and shifting walls could be the least of your problems? What if the quake shook your water heater away from the wall, causing a gas leak? Flammable paint or other liquids can spill and ignite…and now what’s left of your home is being consumed by fire.

Because fires after an earthquake can pose as much of a threat to property as the earthquake itself, it’s very nice to have California Insurance Code 10088.5 on the books. This code provides that your residential fire insurer cover all fire losses that are caused by, or follow, an earthquake, regardless of whether or not you have earthquake coverage. This is the ONLY exception to the Proximate Cause law we discussed last week, and thank goodness it’s there.

There’s quite a few fire-related hazards after a quake, according to the FEMA website. Appliances, furniture, and household products can shift, fall, and spill, plus gas, chemical and electrical hazards may be present. Even more worrying are the leaking gas lines, damaged or leaking gas propane containers, and leaking vehicle gas tanks that could explode or ignite after the shaking has stopped. Be careful of pools of water or even appliances, as they can be electrically charged.

Here are some more post-earthquake fire tips from FEMA:

Chemical Safety

  • Look for flammable liquids like gasoline, lighter fluid, and paint thinner that may have spilled.
  • Thoroughly clean the spill and place containers in a well-ventilated area.
  • Keep combustible liquids away from heat sources.

Electrical Safety

  • If you can safely get to the main breaker or fuse box, turn off the power.
  • Look for items that might have jarred loose during the earthquake.
  • Appliances or power connectors could create a fire hazard.
  • Assume all wires on the ground are electrically charged. This includes cable TV feeds.
  • Look for and replace frayed or cracked extension and appliance cords, loose prongs, and plugs.
  • Exposed outlets and wiring could present a fire and life safety hazard.
  • Appliances that emit smoke or sparks should be repaired or replaced.
  • Have a licensed electrician check your home for damage.

Gas Safety

  • Smell and listen for leaky gas connections. If you believe there is a gas leak, immediately leave the house and leave the door(s) open.
  • Never strike a match. Any size flame can spark an explosion.
  • Before turning the gas back on, have the gas system checked by a professional.

Generator Safety

  • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and guidelines when using generators.
  • Use a generator or other fuel-powered machines outside the home. CO fumes are odorless and can quickly overwhelm you indoors.
  • Use the appropriate sized and type power cords to carry the electric load. Overloaded cords can overheat and cause fires.
  • Never run cords under rugs or carpets where heat might build up or damage to a cord may go unnoticed.
  • Never connect generators to another power source such as power lines. The reverse flow of electricity or ‘backfeed’ can electrocute an unsuspecting utility worker.

Heating Safety

  • Kerosene heaters may not be legal in your area and should only be used where approved by authorities.
  • Do not use the kitchen oven range to heat your home. In addition to being a fire hazard, it can be a source of toxic fumes.
  • Alternative heaters need their space. Keep anything combustible at least 3 feet away.
  • Make sure your alternative heaters have ‘tip switches.’ These ‘tip switches’ are designed to automatically turn off the heater in the event they tip over.
  • Only use the type of fuel recommended by the manufacturer and follow suggested guidelines.
  • Never refill a space heater while it is operating or still hot.
  • Refuel heaters only outdoors.
  • Make sure wood stoves are properly installed, and at least 3 feet away from combustible materials. Ensure they have the proper floor support and adequate ventilation.
  • Use a glass or metal screen in front of your fireplace to prevent sparks from igniting nearby carpets, furniture or other combustible items.

and Remember…

  • Always use a flashlight – not a candle – for emergency lighting.
  • Some smoke alarms may be dependent on your home’s electrical service and could be inoperative during a power outage. Check to see if your smoke alarm uses a back-up battery and install a new battery at least once a year.
  • Smoke alarms should be installed on every level of your home.
  • All smoke alarms should be tested monthly. All batteries should be replaced with new ones at least once a year.
  • If there is a fire hydrant near your home, keep it clear of debris for easy access by the fire department.

If you have any questions about your insurance coverages for natural disasters—floods, earthquakes, mudslides, hurricanes—please just give us a call. We are always available for our clients to help them find the best coverage that works for their needs. Call BMR Insurance Agency today on (714) 838-1911 or click here to email us directly.

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