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WILDFIRES: WHAT TO DO?
What To Do Before, During, and After a Wildfire

By Doug Cohen
2014-08-07

Welcome to California, the original home of the eternal flame, or so the joke goes. But for those who have ever been evacuated from their home, a wildfire is no joke.

Before it's too late, start preparing now in order to lower the risk of wildfire to your family, your home, and your valuable property. Cal Fire recommends 100' of defensible space makes your home fire safe by creating a safe zone around your home. This may mean you need to clear combustible items like wood, leaves, branches, dying plants, trees, and shrubs but otherwise this tinder becomes fodder for even the smallest of fires. Sprinkle in a little wind and you have a recipe for disaster. Look for other potential problem items or areas that could also help spread a wildfire.

Be sure your homeowners insurance is current, paid, and financially covers you adequately in the event of a total loss. Take a video inventory of your house and keep it stored safely in an email. Don't forget to open drawers and closet doors, where most valuables are kept and speak audibly so the claims adjuster can clearly hear you describing the objects on screen.

Have a family emergency plan and keep emergency kits in the trunk of your car.

Know what is irreplaceable and what is not. One family's evacuation plan includes only the following items: Kids, pets, computers, school pictures, wedding album, and photo books. Everything else they felt could be easily replaced and with the proper homeowners insurance they said they knew they had nothing to worry about.

During a wildfire, remember, a life can never be replaced. If a wildfire ever comes your way, be sure to have a good evacuation plan and never go back into a burning home to retrieve personal items.

Wear clothing that protects your body, carry a handkerchief to breathe through, listen for official instructions, and evacuate immediately when ordered to do so. Know the safest evacuation route. Notify someone that you're leaving and where you're going.

If time permits close and lock up the entire house sealing all doors, windows, blinds, and vents. Shut off the gas at the main shut off but not the electricity. You'll want to turn on house lights to help with visibility for your home in case it's hidden by heavy smoke. Turn on the sprinklers and wet the roof if possible. DO NOT attempt all of this if you're under immediate, official, wildfire evacuation orders however.

After a wildfire you'll want to reduce or minimize any further property loss, avoid scam artists, and work closely with your insurance company. Always use extreme caution when returning to your home and never do so until given official permission to return by local authorities. Work closely with your insurance company or agent. And only work with licensed and bonded contractors with an active contractor's license and a good reputation.

With the proper Loss of Use coverage on your homeowners insurance you should be eligible for reimbursement to take up residence elsewhere while your home is being repaired or rebuilt. Relocation expenses, storage costs, increased housing expenses, telephone installation, extra food costs, furniture rental, and even extra transportation costs you may incur to get to school or work; all of these are considered valid Loss of Use expenses and can be claimed for reimbursement on your homeowners insurance policy. But you must be sure you have the proper coverage. Consult your favorite homeowner's insurance agent and be sure he or she specializes in this type of coverage.

For more assistance, or to speak with an experienced, licensed insurance agent, contact Policy 1 Insurance Services at (844) POLICY-1 which is (844) 765-4291.

Doug Cohen is the president of ensurance LLC and has been involved in the insurance profession since 1989.

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