What Happens if Your House Burns Down in a Wildfire?

Stay prepared and know what to do if a wildfire burns down your house. Learn essential steps and safety measures to navigate the aftermath with guidance from the WFCA.

Published:August 29, 2023
Edited:
March 1, 2024

Table of Contents

    Stay prepared and know what to do if a wildfire burns down your house. Learn essential steps and safety measures to navigate the aftermath with guidance from the WFCA.

    If your house burns down in a wildfire, it can be an incredibly devastating and overwhelming experience. Not only do you have to deal with the loss of your home, but also the emotional toll it takes on you and your loved ones. In such a situation, it’s important to prioritize safety and take immediate action. While the journey to recovery may be challenging, with the right support and resources, you can rebuild and start anew.

    Who to Notify and What Information is Required?

    First, promptly notify your insurance company about the loss of your home to begin the claims process. Your insurance company will guide you through the necessary steps and documentation that is required.1 Next, notify your mortgage lender about the incident and they can provide guidance on any necessary steps regarding your mortgage and insurance payout.2 Then, utility providers, such as electricity, gas, and water companies, will need to be contacted to suspend or transfer services.3

    Fire victim homeowners should prioritize obtaining a fire report by requesting a copy from the local fire department or the relevant authorities. It encompasses details about the fire, including its cause, the extent of damage, and any pertinent details or observations. This report will be useful for insurance claims and other documentation purposes.4 Fire victims are also encouraged to seek assistance from disaster relief organizations such as the Red Cross or local government agencies. These agencies will help with immediate needs such as housing, food, and other essentials.

    Will Homeowners Insurance Cover Wildfires?

    Homeowners insurance can provide coverage for wildfires, but it’s important to understand the specifics of your policy. Here’s what you need to know:

    1. Filing a Claim: To file a claim, contact your insurance company right away. Be prepared to provide details about the fire, including the date, time, location, and description of damages. They will guide you through the process and provide the necessary forms.5
    2. Documentation: When filing a claim, you’ll need to provide documentation such as photos or videos of the damage, a detailed inventory of your belongings, and any receipts or appraisals for valuable items. These visuals will help support your claim. Also, be sure to maintain a thorough record of all communication with your insurance company, including names of representatives you speak with and the details of your conversations.5
    3. Claim Processing Time: The time it takes for the insurance company to process your claim can vary, though most claims are settled within 90-120 days.6 Processing time depends on factors like the complexity of the claim and the volume of claims they are handling. It’s best to check with your insurance provider for an estimated timeline.
    4. Coverage Limit: The coverage limit for your homeowners’ insurance policy depends on the terms and limits stated in your policy. Moreover, look for sections or clauses that specifically mention coverage for wildfires or natural disasters. Pay attention to the dwelling coverage, personal property coverage, and any additional living expenses coverage.7 These sections will outline the maximum amount your insurance company will pay for repairs or replacement of your home, belongings, and temporary living arrangements in the event of a wildfire. If you have trouble finding this information, you can contact your insurance agent or customer service for assistance.
    5. Additional Living Expenses (ALE) Coverage: Many homeowners’ insurance policies include ALE coverage. This coverage helps pay for temporary housing, meals, and other living expenses if your home becomes uninhabitable due to a covered event like a wildfire.8
    6. Upfront Funds: Some insurance companies may provide upfront funds to cover immediate needs, such as temporary housing or clothing. Check with your insurance provider to see if they offer this service.9

    Remember, each insurance policy is unique, so it’s essential to review your own policy and consult with your insurance provider for precise details about coverage, claim procedures, and available benefits.

    What About Your Mortgage?

    It is important to note, that homeowners are still responsible for making mortgage payments even if the home is lost in a wildfire. In some cases, mortgage lenders may temporarily suspend mortgage payments while you rebuild or find alternative housing. This is known as a forbearance or payment deferment. The insurance payout from the claim you file will typically go towards paying off the remaining mortgage balance. If there is a shortfall, you may need to work out a repayment plan with your lender. Moreover, it’s important to communicate openly with your mortgage lender and insurance company to ensure a smooth process and understand the specific details of your situation. If there are any remaining funds from your insurance payout, it can be used as you see fit.10

    Do You Have to Rebuild?

    To prepare for the potential loss of your home and belongings in a wildfire, consider taking the following steps:

    1. Create a home inventory: Document your belongings by taking photos or videos of each room. Keep a detailed list of valuable items, including their estimated value, purchase receipts, and any relevant appraisal documents. Store this inventory in a safe place or digitally.11
    2. Review your insurance coverage: Make sure you have adequate homeowners’ insurance coverage that includes wildfire protection. Understand the terms, limits, and exclusions of your policy. Consider additional coverage options if necessary.11 Do all of this annually and don’t wait until you suffer a loss.
    3. Create a “go bag”: Prepare an emergency kit with essential items like important documents (identification, insurance policies, etc.), medications, clothing, toiletries, and a portable phone charger. Keep this bag easily accessible.12
    4. Develop an evacuation plan: Create a checklist of items to grab and identify multiple evacuation routes from your home and establish a meeting point for your family or household members. Stay informed about evacuation orders and have a plan for pets or livestock if applicable.
    5. Harden your home: Take steps to make your home more fire-resistant by clearing brush and vegetation around the property, using fire-resistant materials for construction or renovations, and maintaining a defensible space.
    6. Stay informed: Sign up for emergency alerts and notifications from local authorities. Stay updated on wildfire conditions and follow evacuation orders promptly.

    Sources

    1. APM Mortgage, “What to do if Your Home is Burned or Destroyed by Wildfires.” Accessed August 23, 2023.
    2. USFA, “After the Fire.” Accessed August 24, 2023.
    3. Knoerr Law Group, “What to do After a House Fire: A Guide.”
    4. Frontline Fire, “What to do if a Fire Burns Down Your Home.” Accessed August 24, 2023.
    5. Consumer Reports, “How to File a Homeowners Insurance Claim After a Fire.” Accessed August 24, 2023.
    6. Insurance Claim Consultants, “FAQ’s – Fire Insurance Claim Help.” Accessed August 24, 2023.
    7. Quote Wizard, “Homeowners Insurance and Wildfire Coverage.” Accessed August 24, 2023.
    8. Jansen Adjusters International, “The Advantage of Additional Living Expense (ALE) Coverage.” Accessed August 24, 2023.
    9. Insurance Information Institute, “Settling Insurance Claims After a Disaster.” Accessed August 24, 2023.
    10. Mortgage Calculator, “Natural Disaster Recovery.” Accessed August 24, 2023.
    11. Statesman Journal, “How to Protect Your House and Belongings Before and After a Wildfire.” Accessed August 24, 2023.
    12. Ready, “Basic Disaster Supplies Kit.” Accessed August 24, 2023.

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