A massive wildfire, nicknamed 'the beast," engulfed Fort McMurray, Alberta in early May requiring all 88,000 residents to evacuate the city. According to the Claims Journal, in one neighborhood, Beacon Hill, 80 percent of homes were destroyed. All in all, so far about 2,400 homes and buildings were damaged by the fire.

Fire Chief Darby Allen commented on the fire saying, "This was a beast. It was an animal. It was a fire like I've never seen in my life."

The Alberta government reported that two fires in the oil sand city of Fort McMurray then joined to form one massive fire. Now, the wildfire has spread north towards Enbridge Inc.'s Cheecham oil sands transportation terminal. It's within a kilometer of the station.

The wildfire is now about 1,096 square miles. To put that into perspective, it's almost the size of Rhode Island.

There are over 160 helicopters, 28 air tankers, and 1,900 firefighters working to stop the blaze and save the oil sands. Already, about a million barrels per day of oil sands crude production have been shut down because of the wildfire.

But firefighters have their work cut out for them. "The beast" will likely continue to burn for months, according to Chad Morrison of Alberta Wildfire.

Morrison told Reuters, "When you have this type of extreme fire behavior, it doesn't matter what tankers you put in front of it, or how many helicopters, mother nature is going to continue to move that fire forward.”

Wildfire risk

For Americans living in states prone to wildfires, "the beast" serves as a reminder of how destructive they can become. Thanks to the increasing temperatures and dry conditions brought on by El Nino, last year was one of the most damaging wildfire seasons in history.

More than 11 million acres were burned by over 51,000 fires last year. And of the 10 most destructive wildfires to occur in California, two happened in 2015.

Which states are the most prone to wildfires? The top five states with the most households at risk include:

  • Idaho
  • Colorado
  • California
  • New Mexico
  • Texas

How to protect yourself from a wildfire

Insurance

There are some precautions you can take to prepare for a wildfire. Protecting yourself financially if your car is damaged by a fire is fairly simple. Buying comprehensive car insurance will not only provide you coverage for wildfires, it can protect against other natural disasters such as earthquakes or floods.

Likewise, one of the best things you can do to protect your home from damage is to make sure your home insurance policy covers wildfire damage.

Homeowners insurance will typically cover you from wildfires, so you won't need to buy an extra policy. This coverage will even reimburse you for the loss of your belongings. However, if you live in an area prone to fire, like an arid, mountainous area or dry grasslands, your insurer may want you to prepare in advance by retrofitting your home or using other safety precautions.

Many Canadians affected by the fires in Alberta are turning to insurance themselves. The Star reported in a recent article that insurers have already started working on processing claims.

Similar to the U.S., the claim amount is decided by the type of policy someone has, the damage done, and how much a person's belongings are worth.

With wildfires and other natural disaster occurring more frequently, home insurance can be invaluable. Rosa Nelson told The Star that her company Intact Insurance has seen "exceedingly more" natural disasters during the past decade than ever before.

Have a plan

One way homeowners can prepare is to have an emergency plan and kit prepared. Figure out the best route for you to get to safety, and set a location where you'll meet your family and friends if separated during a fire.

Have a kit ready with a flashlight, batteries, water, first aid supplies, medications, and copies of important documents.

Retrofit your home

Retrofitting your home involves modifying your house's original structure. In this case, you'd be retrofitting it to make it safer from fires.

Here are some ideas for making your house less fire-prone:

  • Make sure your roof is fire-proof by using non-combustible materials
  • Install sprinkler system
  • Replace walls and floors with non-combustible materials
  • Use double planed glass for windows
  • Install a spark arrestor in your chimney

Lawn maintenance

Not ready to take on the sometimes expensive and time consuming process of retrofitting your home? There are still some precautions you can take.

Fortunately, many of the things you can do to prevent fires from spreading are also routine maintenance items for taking care of your home such as:

  • Keep your yard clear of debris and yard waste like sticks and dead shrubs
  • Make sure your lawn is mowed regularly
  • Clean out your gutters
  • Trim shrubs and trees so that they don't grow excessively
  • Keep your firewood at least 50 feet away from your house