Approximately two months after the horrific fires in Northern California (Santa Rosa, Napa, etc.,) we are witnessing catastrophic wildfires tearing through the Southern California landscape. Unlike the fires in October, I have not noticed any smoke or ash in the air this week. However, I am keeping a close eye on the fire activity in the Los Angeles area and have maintained communication with friends who are being impacted by the devastation.
Watching the news and reading the articles on this matter led me to read some articles, by fire experts, on our website. I wanted to pull together some information that might prove useful for those suffering immense loss and even displacement. Here is what I learned from Experts.com members:
Collect the Evidence – Document, Document, Document:
Once the fires are extinguished, you are going to be dealing with your insurance company. Your home, office, vehicles, and other property do not need to be engulfed in flames to suffer damage. Being in the region of a fire can cause costly soot damage to both real and personal property.
For example, let’s assume your home suffered some soot damage as a result of wildfires in your region. When your insurance adjuster comes to review the damage to your property, they are going to want to know if it was a common source of residential soot or the result of regional wildfires. Here are some common causes of residential soot as described in an article by Member EFI Global.
- Fire Places
- Heater malfunctions
- Wildfires nearby
- Interior fires (cooking, appliance etc.)
The article goes on to state, “localized soot over stoves, fire places, heater vents, and used candles is explainable to those sources and is generally not a covered loss.” This is why I believe it is important to document!
If you are noticing soot damage to your home as a result of the wildfires, you should begin taking your own photos and video to properly document areas of damage you have found since the fires began. You do not want your insurance adjuster to arrive, do their own investigation, note the areas above, and claim these are the result of the soot damage in your home. Make sure you have your own documentation of these areas and other areas damaged by soot.
The documentation should take place inside and outside the home. I have seen several pictures of fire retardant found on neighborhood streets, vehicles, and homes. If the fire retardant hit your property, make sure to document the exterior of the home for fire, smoke, and other damage related to extinguishing the fire.
If you can locate pictures from before the fire. Do it! Get some before and after photos assembled to help present the damage you see to your home.
Review Policy & Contact Insurance Provider:
Granted, most articles online will probably tell you to do this first. I am assuming you’re doing this at about the same time you are collecting your own evidence to provide to the adjuster.
Upon reporting the damage to your insurance company, you should inquire as to who may be able to assist with fire restoration in your region. Remember, if flames actually reached your home and water was used to extinguish the flames, you have to be cognizant of the potential for mold. This is why you want to find someone competent with fire restoration protocols. Your insurance should be able to guide you to finding the right provider.
Separate the Good from the Bad:
It is possible portions of your home remain undamaged. If this is the case, you’ll want to separate items that are damaged from those that are undamaged.
By separating the items you prevent further harm to the undamaged portions of your home. The separate section of damaged property will actually serve as your inventory for your insurance provider. It will help you to establish what was lost and what should be covered.
Take Care of Each Other:
Do not forget, fires are life altering events. We have experienced some catastrophic wildfires in California this year. The losses are felt throughout many neighborhoods. In preparing for this post, I found this article from the Napa Valley Register. It shares the story of a man who has lost a house in Santa Rosa, only to find out that his original home (turned rental) was destroyed in the Ventura fire this week.
If you can, reach out and help your neighbor. Help someone in your community. If you are insulated from the wildfires, maybe just write a blog post providing some information for those you know who have been impacted by the devastation.
Great info, Nick! Also remember, combustible particulate from char, ash and soot can be microscopic and is very corrosive. Left untreated, it can deteriorate paint, etch metals and leave a lasting smell in your home or business. An adjuster that denies a claim based on a visual inspection is doing a disservice to their client. A 3rd party industrial hygienist should be employed to sample the affected areas. These samples are then analyzed for char, ash and soot concentrations. If determined elevated, a protocol for remediation should be written. Once obtained, call a certified restoration vendor (preferably SERVPRO) to complete the mitigation. In some circumstances, a clearance test will be required to verify acceptable levels have been achieved.
SERVPRO Large Loss Response Team
Look who came out of the wood-work, no pun intended. Thanks for the comment, Joe. For full disclosure, Joe and I attended college together.
[…] the same impact on me. In fact, the concern for others dealing with disaster compelled me to write this piece last year. It covers topics of evidence collection and insurance policy review, in the aftermath […]