When should I file my insurance claim?

As soon as you are able. Most homeowners insurance policies have strict deadlines policyholders must adhere to, so you should file your claim as soon as possible.

My home burned down. Do I still have to pay my mortgage?

Generally, yes. Although some lenders might give you a grace period in which they won’t penalize you for late payments, such as charging late fees or reporting delinquencies. It’s advisable for you to check with your lender to determine what their disaster relief policies are.

If my home burned down, do I still have to pay my utility bills?

You will need to contact your utility providers to best determine what sort of disaster relief plan, if any, they have in place for customers.

Will my insurance policy cover my living expenses, if I can no longer live in my home?

Most homeowners insurance policies cover “Additional Living Expenses” if you can’t live in your home due to a severe loss like wildfire damage. Additional Living Expenses reimburse expenses beyond what you would normally spend while living in your home, such as hotel bills, apartment rent, restaurant meals, storage, moving costs and other out-of-pockets costs you incur while your home is being rebuilt or repaired.

My home didn’t burn down, but my property sustained soot and smoke damage. Will my insurance cover it?

Homeowners insurance typically covers a variety of losses stemming from storms, fires, and other disasters. However, specific coverage depends on the nature of your policy and where you live. In certain wildfire prone areas, homeowners might have had to purchase additional coverage in order to recover from damage.

If my business burned down, will my loss of business income be covered by my insurance company?

Generally, yes. Most business insurance policies will cover some loss of business income if your business is interrupted due to natural disasters, such as wildfires.

However, insurance companies will often challenge your income loss claims in an attempt to minimize the amount you receive, so it can be difficult to get the full amount you are owed for your business income losses.

Additionally, many businesses may experience other losses that are not easily covered in the claims process. Vineyards, for example, may face difficulties receiving coverage for spoilage due to utility failures, loss of vines, smoke taint of grapes, and more.

How do I receive my mail while I’m displaced?

If you are temporarily evacuated after the wildfires, you can submit an online request to ask that your local post office holds your mail at the office for a limited period of time while you’re away from home.

However, if you have lost your home, or are displaced for a longer period of time due to the wildfires, you can submit an online change of address form to forward your mail to a new, temporary address while your home is being repaired or rebuilt via the official United States Postal Service Change of Address page.

What are the potential health effects of wildfires for me and my family?

In the short term, exposure to wildfire smoke can cause symptoms such as itchy, burning eyes, runny nose, cough, phlegm, wheezing, and difficulty breezing, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. For those with pre-existing lung and heart conditions, these symptoms can be even more severe.

While the specific long-term health effects of wildfire smoke are not well understood, it is known that wildfire smoke is more toxic than other types of smoke. It’s also known that exposure to any type of smoke can raise your risk for respiratory disease, cardiovascular disease, strokes, and adverse pregnancy outcomes.

Are wildfires becoming more frequent year over year?

The wildfire outbreak that caused so much destruction in Northern California this month is now considered the worst in the state’s history. This is part of a general trend of longer, more destructive wildfire seasons in California and the rest of the West Coast, and many scientists believe climate change is to blame.

According to a 2016 study by researchers at the University of Idaho and Columbia University, wildfires have become twice as destructive over the past three decades, burning over 10.4 million acres of land between 1984 and 2015. This research links the hotter, dryer conditions that foster intense wildfires with human-caused greenhouse gas emissions.

How did the 2017 Napa and Sonoma County wildfires start?

Although wildfires can occur naturally, most are caused by human error. That’s suspected to be the case in the most recent wildfires.

While it is not yet confirmed who or what started the wildfires that blazed through Napa and Sonoma counties, some reports have pointed the finger at PG&E’s power lines as the potential cause of these devastating wildfires. California state regulators are now investigating the utility’s possible role in this year’s wildfires.

This isn’t the first time PG&E has been investigated for potentially causing wildfires due to negligence. PG&E’s equipment was found to be the cause of a number of past wildfires, including the September 2015 Butte fire that killed two people and destroyed over 500 homes in Amador County, and the 1994 Rough and Ready wildfire.

What’s being done to contain the Napa and Sonoma County wildfires?

After 12 days of valiantly fighting the blazes, firefighter crews have made great strides containing the wildfires in Sonoma and Napa counties. As of October 19, the Atlas Fire that burned 51,623 acres is now 85 percent contained, and the Tubbs Fire that blazed through 36,432 acres is now 92 percent contained, according to CBS SF Bay Area. Weather forecasts predict that rainfall will come to the Bay Area, helping to accelerate containment of the wildfires over the weekend.