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Wildfire home insurance

Damage from fire, smoke and ash is typically covered under most home insurance policies, including wildfires. However, in some parts of the country where wildfires are an annual risk, home insurance may be difficult to obtain or very expensive.

Home insurance covers the structure of your home, personal property and additional living expenses after a wildfire.

To be properly insured for wildfire damage, it’s important to carefully review your replacement cost coverage and discuss with your insurance agent or representative what you need to know about wildfires.

Learn everything you need to know about wildfire insurance and claims below.

Key Takeaways

  • Wildfire damage to your home and personal property is generally covered by home insurance.
  • Your insurance will also pay temporary living expenses if you have to live elsewhere after a wildfire.
  • There are steps you can take to reduce the risk of wildfire damage to your home, including home upgrades and clearing brush.

Does home insurance cover wildfires?

Homeowners insurance covers fire damage, including wildfires. A number of coverages apply to the damage caused by a wildfire.

Dwelling coverage will cover any damage to your home’s structure and any attached structures like a garage or deck. The other structures portion will cover anything not attached to the house, like a shed or fence.

Personal property coverage applies to all of the contents of your home, including furniture, electronics, linens, clothing and more.

Finally, additional living expenses coverage will help to cover the costs of living elsewhere if a wildfire forces you from your home.

Is smoke and ash damage covered?

Yes, home insurance will cover damage caused by smoke and ash to both the structure of your home and your personal property.

If your home gets exposed to smoke and ash, be sure to have the house and your personal items inspected and then cleaned or treated and restored to their original state.

Here is a checklist for how to document smoke damage that will help support your wildfire claim, according to the non-profit consumer advocacy group United Policyholders:

  • After documenting your damage, let your insurance company inspect your home, and be sure to take notes on the inspection and document your conversations.
  • Be sure to have a thorough inspection done by a qualified person. For instance, it’s ideal to have the inspector be an independent contractor who does not get the majority of his or her business from your insurance company. Also, ask for credentials. That way you’re sure you have trained professionals who are certified or trained in air quality and particulate assessment.
  • Consider paying for a qualified inspector to assess your home if your insurer is not willing to pay for an investigation into all damage, including what may be hidden behind drywall and so on. You will want to use a company that has experience testing homes exposed to wildfires that works with Certified Industrial Hygienists (CIH), who test for smoke, soot and char and other contaminants in the air and on surfaces. Field testers conduct swab testing of surfaces inside your home to determine if there are particulates, such as carbon, ash or soot. The air is also captured in a container that can detect off-gassing specific to wildfires. These results are what you would submit to your insurance company. They also determine the type of cleaning and repair methods needed to make your home clean and safe again. The cost is typically between $2,000 to $4,000 for testing, lab work and a written report.

Understanding interdependent risk from your neighbor’s home

We asked Howard Kunreuther, co-director of the Wharton Risk Management and Decision Processes Center at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, to comment on issues relating to wildfire and homeowners insurance. Dr. Kunreuther is author of The Ostrich Paradox: Why We Underprepare for Disasters.

Q: Why are wildfires categorized as an interdependent risk when it comes to insurance?

A: The risk of wildfire damage one homeowner may face is determined, in part, by whether other homeowners nearby have protected their property against wildfire damage. That is what’s known an “interdependent risk.”

Say, for example, one homeowner does not create defensible space by removing brush and dead plants around their home. When wildfire endangers that community, embers that take flight from that house may cause a neighboring house to catch fire too. 

Q: Given the interdependent nature of wildfire risk, is there any coordination required between neighboring homes when filing insurance claims?

A: It is helpful if homeowners coordinate and work together to maintain defensible space around their properties. But each neighboring homeowner will need to make independent claims on their own insurance policies. No homeowner has a claim for damages against another homeowner’s insurance policy if embers from a neighbor’s house caused their home to catch fire.

Tips for filing homeowners insurance claims after wildfires

Tips for home insurance claims after wildfire

Here’s what to do if you have to file a homeowners insurance claim after a wildfire

Record damage to all property

Photograph the damage to your home and personal property. Keep all damaged belongings in case an insurance adjuster needs to visit to inspect your property and verify claims.

File a claim immediately

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 so confirm the deadline to file claims with your insurance company before it is too late.

Make temporary repairs

If it’s safe to do so, make any repairs you can to prevent further damage. Cover windows and any holes in the home with tarps or plywood. Be cautious; never enter a home that is not structurally sound after a fire. Wait for officials to clear you to enter the home.

Check the condition of items after they are cleaned

If you believe an item is too far gone to be cleaned up, United Policyholders recommends insisting on a fair replacement value settlement for that item. Additionally, you can claim the replacement value in addition to the cleaning cost of your belongings that are not in satisfactory condition after they’ve been cleaned.

Tips for dealing with insurance after a wildfire

It’s important to stay on top of your insurance claim after a wildfire and to keep in mind that with widespread damage, the process might be slow. Provide all requested documentation and respond to requests from the insurance company quickly to keep things moving smoothly.

Other tips from the California Department of Insurance:

  • Policy provisions, including deductibles, vary by company. Homeowners should check with their insurer or agent as soon as possible to confirm coverage, limits and any other limitations and documentation requirements.
  • Consumers should ensure any insurance agent or public adjuster offering their services has a valid license by checking online with the Department of Insurance.
  • In California, public adjusters cannot solicit business for seven calendar days after the disaster.
  • When leaving your home, don’t forget copies of insurance policies, important papers and a photo or video inventory of your possessions. Keep all receipts accrued during the evacuation. An inventory can be completed quickly and easily on your smartphone and safely stored in the Cloud.

Your vehicle is covered for fire damage under your auto insurance policy if you carry comprehensive coverage. There is no coverage for your car under your home policy, even if it burns while in your garage.

Beware of home repair fraud

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 industry organization Insurance Information Institute 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; check with your state’s contractors licensing board to verify that someone is licensed before you hire him or her.

Fire protection: How to protect your home from wildfires

Homeowners who live in areas susceptible to wildfires can take steps to reduce the risk of damage.

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.
  • Deadwood 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 can destroy neighborhoods and homes, but by taking precautions, you might be able to reduce the damage or even save your home.

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Penny Gusner


Penny is an expert on insurance procedures, rates, policies and claims. She has extensive knowledge of all major insurance lines -- auto, homeowners, life and health insurance. She has been answering consumers’ questions as an analyst for more than 15 years and has been featured in numerous major media outlets, including the Washington Post and Kiplinger’s.