Dealing with Insurance After Your House Burns Down

Hector Salazar took this photo of a fire on Mandela and 7th in West Oakland this morning.

Right now there are several fires raging across California. As we write this, the BART public transport system has been shut down in the Oakland area of San Francisco.  People’s homes and businesses are being burnt to the ground at this very moment and many of their important documents are being destroyed. Those documents would have helped them to gain everything they deserve when they file an insurance claim. Here are some tips for being prepared to file a homeowner’s insurance claim and what to do after your home has been burned, either partially or completely to the ground.

  1. First of all, take a deep breath. A house fire is tragic and terrifying, but fire is also your ally when it comes to filing an insurance claim. Insurance companies will very rarely give you problems with covering the loss and paying to replace damaged property and personal contents—unless, of course, they can prove arson. There’s not a homeowners policy in America that doesn’t pay for fire; and if yours doesn’t include fire, you must be buying it out of the back of some guy’s van.
  2. DO NOT enter the house until you’ve been told it is safe by fire or emergency personnel. They will make sure the fire is truly extinguished and establish safety zones. It is possible that the property will be so badly damaged that you won’t be able to enter at all.
  3. Insurance companies want a good deal of documentation. They’ll ask for proof of your most important and expensive items. The best thing to do is take photographs or a video of your contents, make hard copies of the inventory photos and/or video, then upload them to an external website. Your experience with the adjuster will be much smoother if you have thorough documentation. And if you have a lot of expensive possessions, documentation is necessary to get the insurance company to pay what its worth—otherwise, you’ll get reimbursed for the “average”.
  4. Know who to call after a fire. Don’t assume that the fire department or police will inform your insurance company about the fire, nor is the insurance company patrolling the streets for signs of fire or damage. You’ll need to call them in order to start the process, which includes documentation of the event and the claim itself. Also, the agent can help you with emergency lodging, and talk to you about living expenses—don’t forget to keep every receipt that has to do with you and your family being displaced after the fire. If you’re a tenant, get in touch with the owner or landlord and see who needs to call their insurance company. Don’t forget to call family members who weren’t with you when the fire happened. Let them know you’re alright; they also might be able to offer you aid or a place to stay.
  5. Get a fire report by calling the fire department and requesting a copy. This will detail what state the house was in, the area of the house involved, the time and date of the incident, and an incident number. It will be good to have this in case the insurance company requests it.
  6. SECURE YOUR HOUSE. Assuming the house isn’t completely burned to the ground, you’ll be required to secure it by insurance. This sounds crazy, but if a thief or looter goes onto your property when it’s not properly secured and gets hurt, you could be liable.
  7. Remember, damage usually goes far beyond what the eye can see, which is why you need professional help to clean up. If the damage is beyond a single room, or happened in a garage or kitchen where the heat may have triggered a chemical reaction, it is best to call a company like ours to get the clean-up done quickly in the best way possible.

Let us help you get your Orange County home and life back as soon as possible! A house fire doesn’t have to be the end of the world. If you have any questions about the information above, please get in touch. We’d be happy to answer any questions you have.

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