After the Fire: A Recovery Guide Part One-Insurance Tips

Recovery from the devastation following a wildfire can be a long and daunting task. If you have insurance, chances are you’ve already submitted a claim to your insurance company. If you haven’t made a claim yet, this is going to be your first step towards recovery.

You will likely be working with a catastrophic claim adjuster who has come into the community specifically to work on wildland fire claims. Following the fires, hundreds of adjusters flooded into the area from out of state to handle the massive volume of claims. It is important for you to recognize that these adjusters work for the insurance company and that they do not work for you, so don’t get that confused. This is important because many of these out of state adjusters have spread misinformation in the aftermath of the wildfires. Some adjusters have been telling victims that they only have 6-12 months to collect insurance payments when in fact they have 24 months to file a claim.Your insurance policy is a contract for benefits and it pays to read it over carefully. If you lost your copy in the fire, you can get another copy from your agent or broker. This is especially important as many are finding themselves in the position of being underinsured. Knowing now what your coverage entails can save headaches down the line.

Initial Benefits in the Claim Process

There are two benefits in almost every policy you will use right away. These are additional living expense (ALE) and debris removal.

Additional Living Expenses (ALE)

Loss of Use or Additional Living Expense coverage provides benefits for those extra living expenses caused by your fire loss. You are generally entitled to like kind and quality housing, plus meal reimbursement when you are forced to eat out. You can also claim additional travel expenses, moving costs and, if applicable, storage costs for the contents of the damaged property. The way ALE works is that it will pay the difference between what you would normally spend and what you are forced to spend due to the disaster. For example, if you normally spend $100 a month on travel to and from work, but must spend $150 now because you have moved further away, ALE will pay the $50 difference. It is important to note that the California wildfires have been declared a disaster, meaning the number of months that you can claim ALE coverage has increased from 12 to 24 months.

Debris Removal

The trick with debris removal is to make sure whoever you hire is qualified to comply with environmental regulations for disposing of hazardous material. For example, some of the older mobile homes that burned may have asbestos and the homeowner is ultimately responsible for making sure debris is handled correctly.

The Sonoma County and the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal-OES) has a program in place to help wildland fire victims with clean-up. The Cal-OES program is free to the property owner. The only requirement is that the property owner fill out a Debris Removal Right-of-Entry Permit.

Next Steps in Handling Your Claim

After you have filed your claim and started the process of debris removal, the next step is to carefully consider who you hire to do restoration work in your home.

Catastrophic events like a wildland fire will attract all sorts, including folks who intend to take advantage. It is important that you get references and ask questions. You can also check licenses on the State Contractors Board website to make sure that your contractor is fully licensed and insured.

In addition, here are some helpful tips to help you in handling your insurance claim:

1. Report your loss as soon as possible.

2. Document your loss as much as you can in writing.

3. Keep an insurance diary.

4. Take photographs of your loss when possible.

5. Be truthful and accurate about your loss.

6. Be polite but firm with claims personnel.

7. Keep all correspondence with your adjuster in writing, either by email or mail.


8. Do not misstate facts.

9. Do not intentionally overstate the value of your loss.

10. Do not engage in any act that might be considered fraudulent.

11. Do not be intimidated into settling your claim for less than its reasonable value.

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