Homeowners discuss wildfire safety precautions, insurance policies

Along this quiet suburban street is Sharon and Steve Palma’s home. But despite the relative peacefulness, lurks the ever-present danger of wildfires—as their neighborhood is in high fire danger zone,  according to county mapping.

Although their home is covered by their insurance policy during fires, they say just sorting through all the paperwork extinguishes their feeling of safety.

“It should be more clear…explained better, in layman’s terms, instead of hiding it in a big old documents and you don’t know where exactly it is.”

“Its more emotional and mental preparedness I think that we would be ok with, but as far as legal stuff and on paper… I don’t know.”

Most homeowners insurance policies cover fire damage.

But heads-up: That’s not the whole story. If you live in a high-risk area, such as near a canyon, you may need to pay more for additional coverage.

For the most part,  homeowners insurance covers both your home and all property within. More than 90 percent of homeowners buy coverage, according to recent estimates, and as many as 40 percent of renters purchase insurance for their belongings.

The difference between fire insurance and homeowners insurance is blurred today because so many insurance agents still call home insurance fire insurance and vice versa. When shopping for fire insurance or home insurance you need to make sure that the coverage is what you are expecting.

But what should you do if you have become a victim of a fire, state officials say your first call should be with your insurance company or to them.

“First contact your agent. But if you have questions about your coverage, contact the department. You should ask your agent for a copy of your full policy. Most people only have whats called a declaration page—which lists how much coverage you have for you dwelling, your contents, the different things for you coverage. But you want a full copy of your policy, ask your agent for that,” says Nancy Kincaid from the CA Dept. of Insurance.

Here are some tips the California Department of Insurance has given to avoid being victimized by an insurance scam after the fires:

  • Immediately contact your insurance company OR the Department of Insurance.
  • Many insurance policies provide for living expenses in cases of emergency. Your insurance company and agent can help make sure the money arrives promptly.
  • Don’t sign any contracts for repairs or other needs until you have spoken directly to your insurance company representative or agent.

“The common thing we see after the fire are a variety of professionals, whether they are public adjusters, attorneys, contractors, they immediately swoop in into there communities and solicit business, this is how they make money. It is so important for you to be able to process what you’ve been through and start with your agent.”

Kincaid adds that each state has its own insurance department, which helps their residents sort out their policies and claims. Visit your home state’s insurance department site for more information.

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