Written by Brian Kabateck
Record-breaking temperatures hit the Southern California region during the Labor Day weekend, with the city of Woodland Hills setting a record temperature of 121 degrees, the “highest official temperature ever recorded in L.A. County,” according to the National Weather Service. The extreme heat fueled multiple wildfires across the state, leaving at least 12 people dead and destroying more than 3,900 structures. A recent Bloomberg report named this season the worst wildfire season California has ever experienced, and it has only begun. Homeowners should be aware of the wildfire risks associated with the dry season ahead. When a fire is raging towards your home it can be a terrifying situation, but not knowing what your home insurance will cover if your property is damaged can be scarier. If your home is in a high fire risk area, your homeowner’s insurance may be able to help. Now is the time to check over your homeowner’s policy and ask your insurance company questions if needed.
Before the immediate threat of fire danger, homeowners should understand their insurance policies and ensure they have enough coverage in the event of extensive property damage. In general, wildfires are a “covered peril” in most homeowners’ insurance policies. Personal belongings are covered depending on the amount set in the policy, which is typically between 50 and 75 percent of the amount of coverage you have on your home. It’s a good idea to adjust that coverage amount as you accumulate more personal possessions. Also make sure you have enough insurance to cover any improvements you’ve made to your property. Many homeowners do not have enough insurance to rebuild their home because although construction costs have increased substantially over the last two decades, most homeowners’ coverage has not. Your policy should also cover temporary housing while a homeowner is displaced until the house is repaired or rebuilt.
However, there are many cases when insurers will look for ways to skimp on reimbursements by denying claims and leaving homeowners with the bill. If your home is damaged by smoke and ash, you’ll want to make sure your property and possessions get properly inspected, tested and documented. Take pictures of all visible damage and if you’re suffering from any health problems go to your doctor. You’ll want to move as quickly as possible to uncover and document the damage because many policies require early notice of a claim. Take photos and videos and collect bills and receipts. Don’t throw away any damaged belongings until an insurance adjuster has come to examine and record the evidence. Make a list of all the items that were damaged which will help process your claim faster.
As the wildfire season becomes deadlier, many homeowners are realizing that insurance companies are not offering renewals due to their home being located in a high-risk fire or brush area. New home buyers in those areas are finding that getting the right coverage can be tough. If you own a home in these areas, many companies may not be willing to write coverage for you. Insurance companies claim that wildfires in California have become so widespread and that the number of claims is so high, it makes it difficult to conduct business in the state. Insurers are using computer models to assess the risk of fires in certain areas and for individual homes and are deciding that they are exposed to too much risk. If you were dropped by your current insurance company, you may qualify for the California Fair Access to Insurance Requirements Plan (FAIR), which offers basic fire coverage to homeowners who lost their property insurance because of the threat of wildfires.
Whether you have basic coverage with the California FAIR plan or you have limitations on your homeowner’s policy, it’s important to know the extent of your coverage. Dealing with insurance companies after a wildfire can be very stressful for homeowners, and they can find themselves struggling to secure affordable insurance or any policy that may be able to help them. Having to pick up the pieces after your home has been damaged or destroyed by a wildfire can be rough. But knowing what your insurance covers and what may not be covered may help you be better prepared.