The wildfires that broke out on October 8 in Northern California are among the most destructive and deadly in the state’s history. More than 200,000 acres have burned, and 22,000 people have been displaced. The firefighters battling the wildfires have made significant progress though, and the fires devastating Napa and Sonoma counties are slowly being contained, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection’s most recent summary.
With 100 percent containment of all the fires burning in sight, the displaced people will begin to return home, or sadly, to where their homes once stood. They face a long road to completely rebuilding and repairing their homes damaged by the fires but, for those who have insurance, moving into a rebuilt or repaired home is a matter of when, not if.
Below is important insurance information that people with property damaged or destroyed by the wildfires should know before they return home. Although it may be a difficult thing to think about in the wake of a tragedy, filing a detailed insurance claim as soon as possible is among the best ways to begin rebuilding when property is damaged or destroyed.
What To Do After The Fire?
Once the fire has passed it’s important to move quickly and contact the insurance company as soon as possible. This way, your insurer is able to send an adjuster to assess the damage to your property and you can start the rebuilding process.
Additionally, you will also need to document all the property that was damaged or destroyed by the fire on a “proof of loss” form. This is much easier with damaged property but even belongings that were destroyed can be claimed on a proof of loss form. If you are unable to get access to such a form right away, you should still take pictures of everything and begin a detailed account yourself.
Finally, it is best to hold onto any damaged property until an insurance adjuster visits your home so they can include that in their assessment. Discarding damaged property before it’s been documented is just providing your insurer with an excuse not to cover that piece of property.
What Damage Will My Insurance Policy Cover?
While every homeowners policy is different, the typical policy will cover property destroyed by fire or damaged by soot and ash. Additionally, it should cover your belongings and even some of the costs of landscaping, up to a certain amount. In certain wildfire prone areas, homeowners might have had to purchase additional coverage in order to have protection from damage.
Keep in mind, your policy may have limits on certain claims though, and you may not be eligible for the full value of everything that was damaged or destroyed. Make sure your insurer explains in detail why it’s denying covering for something and have them show you where your policy permits this. If its answer doesn’t satisfy you, or is based on wording in your policy you consider misleading, it may be in your best interest to consult an attorney.
Aside from property damage, your insurance company will also reimburse you for additional living expenses if you were forced to leave your home and are unable to return because the damage was too severe. Additional Living Expense coverage (ALEs) include things such as hotel bills, apartment rent, restaurant meals, storage, moving costs and other out-of-pocket costs you incur while your home is being rebuilt or repaired. Be sure to keep your receipts.
Damage to a motor vehicle is a little more complicated, and it may or may not be covered. It depends on whether or not you’ve purchased comprehensive protection with your auto insurance policy. If you lease your car, you’ve likely purchased comprehensive coverage because lessees require it. If you own your vehicle though, it may not be protected if you chose to purchase a policy without comprehensive coverage.
Is My Business Covered for Fire Damage?
Every business has a different insurance policy, but most cover damage and destruction caused by fire. However, unlike homes, there are many more variables in a business insurance policy.
The many wineries in Napa and Sonoma counties are a good example. While buildings that burned down are simple to cover, coverage for spoiled or damaged grapes is more complicated, according to a report by CNBC. Although a policy may offer millions of dollars in coverage, it could have language buried within it placing a cap on specific types of damage.
About 30 wineries in the Napa Valley Vintners trade group reported “some degree of damage,” and about a half dozen wineries reported significant losses, according to CNBC. Yet, even for those that were undamaged by the fire they could still suffer losses from the smoke. A smoky haze will hang over Napa and Sonoma for some time, creating another concern for wineries called “smoke taint,” according to Slate. The smoke damage to the vines and grapes gives wine a scent “like smoked fish” and an aftertaste reminiscent of a dirty “ashtray.”
Overall, the most important thing to remember when it comes to filing an insurance claim after a natural disaster such as a wildfire is to make the claim quickly with as much detail as possible. Insurance companies are on the hook for a lot of money after a tragedy of this scale and will look to save money wherever they can. By filing a detailed claim quickly, you’re eliminating some excuses your insurer may use to deny you coverage.