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Wildfire F.A.Q.'s

After a wildfire, people may have questions about their insurance coverage. The Insurance Information Institute offers answers to some of these basic questions.

HOMEOWNERS INSURANCE COVERAGE

Q. If my house burns down, will my insurance company pay to have it rebuilt?

A. The typical homeowners policy covers damage due to wind, fire and lightning. So if your home has been completely destroyed by a fire or if the roof has been burned, your insurance company will pay to have your home rebuilt or the roof replaced. It will also pay if flames and smoke have damaged any other part of your home.

Q. I know my homeowners policy covers my house. Does it cover the contents of my home and my garage?

A. Yes. In addition to paying for damage to the dwelling, homeowners policies cover other structures on the premises, such as a garage or tool shed, as well as damage to your furniture, clothes, appliances and other personal possessions up to the limits of your policy.

Q. My home has been so severely damaged that it is no longer fit to live in. We can live with friends for a week or two, but after that, I don't know where we'll live. How am I going to pay for all these extra expenses?

A. Your homeowners insurance policy will pay the extra expense of living elsewhere -- reasonable costs to maintain your household -- until your home has been repaired or rebuilt. That would include the cost staying in a hotel for a while, and even clothing. Be sure to keep your receipts.

Q. Most of my personal possessions are ruined. Is there a limit on how much my insurance company will pay for my clothes, furniture and appliances?

A. The contents of your home--your personal possessions--are covered up to the limit set out in the policy, often 50 percent or 75 percent of the amount of coverage you have on your home, depending on the type of policy.

Q. Why do I need a home inventory, won’t my insurance company trust that I know what I have in my home?

A. A home inventory is valuable because it can be very difficult to remember everything that was in the home. A good inventory, if supplemented with photos, video, receipts, model numbers and appraisals, can help the homeowner get a more accurate settlement in less time, in most cases. A copy of the inventory should be kept in a safe, or in a location away from the home.

Q. Much of my furniture and possessions were badly damaged, can I get rid of them if I have a home inventory?

A. A homeowner should not throw things away until an insurance company representative has had a chance to assess the damage and make a claim report.

Read the full list of FAQ here

Source: Insurance Information Institute; www.iii.org

Wildfire Facts

Although California is the state most associated with wildfires, Texas has recorded more than twice the number of wildfires as California as of August of this year and more structures destroyed by wildfires than in any previous year. Part of the reason is the continuing drought and part the increasing number of structures being built in fire prone areas of the state, fire officials say.

In a forecast for the 2009 fire season, the National Interagency Fire Center identified four states with the greatest potential for wildfires: Arizona, New Mexico, California and north-central Washington, based drought conditions and the existence of dry undergrowth and other fire fuels. According to a July 2009 A.M. Best report, inflation-adjusted wildfire catastrophe losses have averaged $215 million each year from 1964 to 2008.

Since 2000 annual losses have averaged $484 million, based on ISO’s PCS figures. Researchers are discovering that embers blown by the wind during wildfires cause most of the fires that burn homes. Also, homes that are less than 15 feet apart are more likely to burn in clusters. In such cases, fire is often spread by combustible fences and decks connected to houses, a study by the Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) found. Thirty-eight states have wildfire risks, IBHS says, and the risk of wildfires keeps growing as more homes are built in wildland areas, some five million in California alone.

Among the preventative features recommended in the IBHS study were noncombustible siding, decking and roofing materials; covered vents; and fences not connected directly to the house. In addition, combustible structures in the yard such as playground equipment should be at least 30 feet away from the house and vegetation 100 feet away. In 2008, almost 5,000 wildfire claims were filed in California, according to the state’s insurance department. For more information on wildfires and mitigation, go to the IBHS Web site www.disastersafety.org.

Source: Insurance Information Institute; www.iii.org