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Insurance Related Steps You Can Take to Protect Yourself From a Fire Loss

Jul 1, 2008
Have you ever really thought about what would happen if you lost your home in a fire? If you live in a fire prone area, you may have thought about it and concluded, "It will never happen to me." If you have ever evacuated, you might have had a tiny ball of fear in the pit of your stomach, and thought, "Gosh, I hope everything is OK." If you have ever sat in your car and watched walls of flame and smoke sweep through your neighborhood, you have probably bargained with Fate, thinking, "If we get through this, I'll be more prepared, I promise."

In 2007, a fire started by downed power lines and driven by 60-80 miles-per-hour winds, swept through Malibu. The Sheriffs' Department came to our home at 4:30 AM and told us we had 15 minutes to evacuate.

After the fire, I spoke to my neighbor, whose home was completely destroyed. I asked her how she was doing, and her reply was that she and her husband were busy going through their credit card charges for the last five years trying to identify things they had purchased, and the cost. Can you imagine having to do that?

The first thing you must do is make sure you have adequate insurance coverage. Could you rebuild your home, or buy one of equal quality with your insurance proceeds? Is your home insured for cost, or replacement value? If it is insured for replacement value, does it have a built-in inflation or cost of living adjustment? You owe it to yourself to know the answers to these questions.

Equally important is the insurance on the contents of your home. Chances are that you are under-insured. Take a look at your policy and see what the dollar coverage is. Think about it. Walk through your house and add up the replacement cost of the bigger items, your furniture, television set(s), clothing, and jewelry. You can ask your insurance agent to send someone out to help you determine the adequate amount of coverage. Yes, it may result in a higher premium. No one wants to spend money unnecessarily, but a couple of hundred dollars extra per year in the premium may be money well spent.

Second, you need evidence of what you have inside your house. There are companies who will come to your home and make a videotape of all your belongings. An alternative idea is to take pictures of your most valuable items, but why not have a documented record of everything you own on videotape? If your home burned down, how long would it take just to make a list of its contents? A videotape will insure that you don't miss anything and that there will be no disputes as to whether you actually had all the items you claim. Your insurance agent can recommend local companies who can do the videotaping.

Third, if you have any receipts or appraisals for your more expensive possessions, set them aside. You may want to make a list of the cost of your more valuable items if you don't have receipts or appraisals. Your videotape and documentation should be kept in a safe deposit box. It won't do you any good if it gets burned up with the house.

While on the subject of insurance, you might find out if it covers loss of landscaping. It either does, or it doesn't. I lost 20 mature trees in the fire. I was amazed, and pleased, to find out that my homeowner's insurance provided coverage for the lesser of either the actual value lost, or $2,500, per shrub.

Finally, if your house should burn down, there are professional consultants/engineers who will help you negotiate replacement value with your insurance company. If you suffer such a loss, these people will probably find you. In case they don't, you should know they exist and consider hiring one to assist you. They do it for a living, you would be doing it for the first time.
About the Author
Kurt Kamm writes novels about fires and firefighters. A resident of Malibu, he has lived through several wildland fires. He is a regular visitor at the fire camps, stations and training academies of L.A. County Fire Department and CalFire. To learn more about his novels, One Foot in the Black, and Red Flag Warning, visit Kurt Kamm.
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