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When Fire Strikes, Americans Grab the Family Album

Turns out we may not be the nation of hedonistic, greed-fueled Gordon Gekkos now being blamed, at least in part, for the collapse of the housing market, the crash and various other boom-and-bust bubbles.

Instead, according to the results of a recent survey asking what one thing people would snatch up and take with them if wildfire was threatening their homes, we're more like a bunch of sentimental old softies.

In a forced evacuation, 43 percent of respondents said they would grab a family photo album while only 20 percent would take money and just 2 percent would hang on to their jewelry. Family pets, at 7 percent, easily outscored the family jewels while laptops, at 13 percent, were somewhere in the middle.

The phone survey of 1,000 Americans, conducted by Opinion Research Corp. on behalf of Chubb Group of Insurance Companies, was timed to coincide with the start of the western wildfire season (
However, the survey delivered a mixed report card on how well prepared American homeowners are on the eve of another fire season, despite the heavy toll taken by wildfires across the country last year.

Responses showed that in the past 12 months, 73 percent had not conducted a family evacuation drill while 20 percent had not replaced smoke detector batteries. And one-third was not protecting valuable documents by keeping them in a fire-resistant safe or at another location.

On the plus side, almost three-quarters of respondents had cleared leaves and debris from roofs and gutters, and removed dead or flammable plants and trees from around their homes.

Even in today's tough housing market, the survey found resistance to buying distressed properties in areas prone to wildfires, with 79 percent saying they would not buy such property as an investment.

However, 68 percent of those already living in a wildfire-risk area said, if they were moving, they would consider buying another home in an area where wildfires have occurred.

Respondents were asked to rate what issues they considered the most important when buying a home in a wildfire-prone area. The results included the location of a fire-fighting water source (59 percent), distance to the local fire department (50 percent), the proximity of heavily wooded areas (47 percent) and whether the local fire department is paid or volunteer (39 percent).

"The survey results indicate a broad awareness of the risk of wildfires throughout the country," said Kevin Fuhriman, catastrophe manager with Chubb Personal Insurance (which operates its own Wildfire Defense Service for its clients ( "But they also show that many residents are willing to cohabitate with the threat of wildfires.

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