Fire Risk in Vacation Rentals: What You Need to Know
Planning an idyllic vacation with your friends could include booking a vacation rental on a Malibu hill with ocean views or surrounded by pine trees in Lake Tahoe.
As you prepare for your trip, Los Angeles Fire Department Assistant Chief Trevor Richmond wants wildfire safety to be on your checklist.
An analysis by the Los Angeles Times found that thousands of Airbnb rentals in California operate in high wildfire risk areas, as identified by Cal Fire.
“During natural disasters, we send emergency notifications to potentially affected hosts and guests, which include links to the most up-to-date advice from local emergency management authorities so they can prioritize their personal safety.” , an Airbnb spokesperson said.
The company provides home security workshops for Airbnb hosts. These workshops aim to “encourage hosts to think carefully about their responsibilities and how to be a responsible hostincluding practicing fire safety by having a working smoke alarm, following government safety guidelines and regulations for their 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 area, so you’ll need to be aware.
Richmond said short-term renters need to know how to reduce hazards even when they’re in vacation mode.
Firefighters “will hit hard from the air; we will hit hard from the ground. We are going to do everything we can to slow the fire,” Richmond said. “But we are counting on the help of the community to be careful, to be smart and to get out of the zone quickly.”
So here’s how you can research the potential for disaster and what to do if it happens the next time you stay at a vacation rental.
Where is your rental?
To determine if a vacation rental is in a fire-prone area, check the property’s location on Cal Firestate fire hazard severity zone map.
The Office of the State Fire Marshall created a Fire Severity Zone Map in 2007. It determines the severity of fire risk in each zone. A key factor is how close homes are to fire-prone nature.
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, the address of a listing is usually only disclosed after the booking is confirmed. But the general location of an ad is shared on a map, so you can use it.
In your vacation rental
When you arrive, look around and note if brush or other plants are near the house or hanging over a roof or chimney. Weeds and grass should not exceed three inches. That doesn’t mean you have to start weeding or brushing while on vacation, but your vigilance could come in handy if a fire starts nearby.
And if so, Richmond said, move flammable patio furniture inside a garage or away from the house. If the host left a pile of firewood next to the house, place it at a distance.
In general, ask yourself if there is anything near the building that is flammable. If so, get as far away as possible.
“A fire will not discriminate between a Manzanita plant, or grass and patio furniture,” Richmond said. “If it burns, it burns.”
When do forest fires happen?
Last year, The Times reported that record levels of dry vegetation during the summer months were a common factor in many of the biggest fires of 2021. Dry vegetation, caused by long-term drought and surf short-term heat, facilitates the ignition and spread of fires at any time of the year.
But September, October and November, in particular, are months when brush and other combustibles have dried out after a hot summer and when Santa Anas or other dry, hot winds create conditions for fires to grow out of control.
“Technically we don’t have a fire season because bushfires can burn at any time, but we do have certain times of the year when [we have a] a heightened sense of awareness because we know fires can escalate very quickly,” Richmond said.
Vacation renters should be alert when there is a combination of hot, dry and windy weather.
Stay informed and get notified
If you are staying in the Los Angeles area, you can download apps and sign up to receive evacuation warnings and orders. Note that a warning means you must prepare to evacuate and an order means leave immediately. Here are a few:
- Alert LA County: Register your phone number or email address at county website to receive alerts about emergencies or disasters across the county from the Sheriff’s Department.
- Notify LA: Register your phone number or email through the city of LA website to receive public health advisories, evacuation orders and early warnings by phone, email or text.
- Nixles: Register to receive text messages and phone calls from local law enforcement throughout LA County.
- Pay attention to local news to stay up to date, Richmond said. The LA Times maintains a regularly updated map of the fires in California.
According to a Times analysis, some cities have rules that require Airbnb hosts to alert guests to the potential for a wildfire or other safety issue.
For example, Los Angeles’ Ordinance on home sharing indicates that a host whose listing is in the highest fire danger zone must display in their listing and on the site that smoking is not permitted outdoors. Another example is Malibu, where hosts are required to post a code of conduct in rental accommodations, informing guests of the city’s proximity to a fire danger zone, the evacuation zone of the announcement and the city’s website for evacuation information.
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 is activating its LA County Emergency website when two or more county departments respond to an emergency incident that poses a threat to life, property, or the environment. The site has evacuations, human shelters, animal shelters, health alerts, road closures and press releases. You can also access evacuation information for Los Angeles County by dial 211.
During an evacuation, anticipate that there will be traffic and give yourself plenty of time to get out.
Richmond said the Oakland Hills fire in 1991 is an example of people waiting too long to flee. Twenty-five people died in the fire – at the time the worst in California history. In one instance, someone stopped their car and got out to walk, Richmond said, leaving people behind with no way down the hill.
About the Times Utility Journalism Team
This article comes from The Times Utility Journalism Team. Our mission is to be essential to the lives of Southern Californians by publishing information that solves problems, answers questions, and aids in decision making. We serve audiences in and around Los Angeles, including current Times subscribers and various communities whose needs have not been met by our coverage.
How can we help you and your community? Email utility(at)latimes.com or one of our reporters: Matt Ballinger, Jon Healey, Ada Tseng, Jessica Roy and Karen Garcia.