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Wildfires and home insurance: What you need to know

Homeowners who live in areas susceptible to wildfires can protect themselves from the dangers the fires present, as well as what can happen to them after the threat has abated.

In the last several years, many rustic regions have become popular homebuilding areas, placing more homeowners in danger of wildfires than ever before.

How to protect your home from wildfires

Here's what you can do to guard against wildfires and prevent damage to your home:

  • Prepare a defensible space of at least 30 feet around your home by clearing away the flammable vegetation and other combustible materials.
  • Replace native plants with fire-resistant landscaping. Consult your local nursery for the fire-safe plants that grow best in your region.
  • Space trees and shrubs at least 10 feet apart.
  • Remove branches within 10 feet of chimneys and roofs.
  • Cover the chimney with a non-flammable screen of one-half-inch or smaller mesh.
  • Remove dead vegetation, leaves, and other debris from roofs and gutters.
  • Stack firewood far away from anything combustible, including fences and outbuildings.
  • If you have a swimming pool, be prepared to use it as a fire-fighting tool by purchasing a pool pump.
  • Dead wood and dying trees should be removed.
  • Inventory all of your belongings and store the list in a safe place away from your home in the event fire strikes.
  • Prepare a family evacuation plan.

Wildfires and home insurance

If wildfires have a potential to put your home and finances at risk, home insurance coverage against wildfires is essential.

Are wildfires covered under standard home insurance?

The short answer is yes. The Insurance Information Institute (III) — a non-profit consumer group sponsored by the insurance industry — notes damage or destruction from fire, including wildfires, are usually covered under a standard home insurance policy. Check with your insurance company and policy to confirm wildfires are covered as insurance offerings can change depending on location.

What property is protected with home insurance?

Homeowners insurance covers a wide range of items, from your home to the belongings inside it.

Examples of dwelling coverage:

  • Home
  • Garage
  • Toolshed
  • Deck

Examples of personal property coverage:

  • Furniture
  • Clothing
  • Jewelry
  • Electronics

More insurance coverage available

In the event your home is rendered inhabitable because of the fire, you can also file claims for additional living expenses. For example, you may need to get a hotel room and your insurance company may reimburse you for these costs. Additionally, you have the option to have your vehicle covered for fire damage under your auto insurance policy if you carry comprehensive coverage.

Tips for filing home insurance claims after wildfires

Keep an updated inventory

Have a list of your belongings prepared beforehand so you have a good place to start when you have to go over what property was possibly destroyed in the wildfire. This will speed up the completion of required proof of loss forms that ask for information related to the date of purchase for destroyed items and the cost to repair or replace them. Update this inventory as you accumulate or get rid of belongings. 

Record damage to all property

Have a record of the destruction to your property ready by taking pictures showing obvious signs of damage. Keep all damaged belongings in case an insurance adjuster needs to visit to inspect your property and verify claims.  

Get a second opinion

United Policyholders recommends getting a second opinion as even professionals with an eye for home damage can have different assessments.

File your claim as soon as possible. To expedite the approval of your claims, begin the process quickly after you discover destruction to your property by contacting your insurance provider. There is a time limit for filing claims soconfirm the deadline to file claims with your insurance company before it is too late.

Beware of home repair fraud

Many homeowners, who must repair or rebuild following wildfires or other catastrophes, have become the unsuspecting victims of home repair fraud.

The III offers these tips to help homeowners avoid becoming victims of fraud.

  • Don’t be rushed into signing a contract with any company. Instead, collect business cards and get written estimates for the proposed job to compare companies and review your options.
  • Beware of contractors who encourage you to spend a lot of money on temporary repairs. Payments for temporary repairs are covered as part of the total settlement. If you pay a contractor a large sum for a temporary fix, you might not have enough money for permanent repairs. Remember to keep repair receipts. Your insurer will reimburse you for these costs.
  • Investigate the track record of any roofer, builder, or contractor you consider hiring. Look for professionals with solid reputations. Get references.
  • Never give anyone a deposit until after you have thoroughly researched his background.

In addition, you should beware of a common fraud scheme in which a "contractor" convinces you to shell out a large deposit before beginning work. Frequently, the job is started, but not completed. Before hiring a home repair contractor, investigate the credentials, background and testimonials of the previous work of the contractor. Many areas require contractors to be licensed.

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