Summary of insurance for wildfires

For those facing the devastating destruction of wildfires, homeowners insurance is crucial. Standard home insurance covers fire damage, including wildfires.

What’s covered?

Your house

If your home’s structure is destroyed or needs repairs, home insurance will pay, up to the “dwelling” coverage amount. This amount is based on the cost to rebuild the house.

Other structures

Other structures such as fences and detached garages are also generally covered, often for 10% of the dwelling coverage. So if your house is insured for $300,000, other structures could be limited to $30,000. Check your policy.

Trees and shrubs

Home insurance does not cover the land itself but generally covers trees, plantings and shrubs, for fire damage, up to the limit in your policy.

Belongings

Damage to your belongings falls under “personal property” coverage within a homeowners insurance policy. Personal property includes your furniture, rugs, clothes, toys, computers, etc. Personal property coverage is sometimes set at 50% of your dwelling coverage. So if your house is insured for $300,000, you may have $150,000 of coverage for your stuff. Check your policy.

You can typically buy more personal property coverage if needed.

Additional living expenses, also called loss of use

Additional living expenses coverage reimburses you for extra costs if you can’t live at home because of damage. Loss of use is typically included in standard policies. The California Department of Insurance recommends verifying your coverage for additional living expenses, and the limit, with your agent or insurer.

Loss of use expenses can include hotel bills, restaurant meals, laundry and other extra costs when you can’t live at home. The amount payable from insurance is usually up to 20% of your dwelling coverage, but here again you can buy more.

Loss of use for evacuations

It’s important to note that you can also make a claim for loss of use if you have to leave home due to a mandatory evacuation. You can make a claim even if your house doesn’t get damaged, as long as the evacuation was required by local or state officials.


Making insurance claims for additional living expenses

Renters insurance for wildfires

Standard renters insurance policies have similar coverage to home insurance, excluding the dwelling coverage. A renters policy will pay for damaged belongings and additional living expenses if your apartment is uninhabitable because of the fire or you had to leave under a mandatory evacuation.

Tips

Here are tips for homeowners facing possible wildfire damage:

  • Home inventory: If you don’t have a home inventory, make one quickly by taking pictures of all your rooms and inside closets, including open drawers.
  • Verify coverage: Confirm your coverage and limits with your insurer.
  • Take insurance documents: If you’re evacuating, take insurance policy documents with you, if there’s time.
  • Keep receipts: Keep all receipts you incur during an evacuation. You’ll need these to make a claim for additional living expenses.
  • Keep a log: Keep a written record of all conversations with your insurer, including the date, time, name of the representative and what was said. If a claim issue arises later you’ll want these notes.

Fire protection services from insurance companies

A small number of insurers operate fire protection services to help customers who are in the path of wildfires.

AIG Private Client Group Wildfire Protection Services

AIG offers this complimentary service to Private Client Group policyholders who live in certain wildfire-prone areas in California, Colorado and Texas. Eligible customers need to enroll in order to get the services. The service is designed to offer mitigation and is not a private fire department. The group will:

  1. Offer advice to customers on reducing possible wildfire damage.
  2. Apply a fire retardant to the perimeter of the property.
  3. Send an emergency team to apply more fire retardant to all combustible parts of a property if a wildfire is approaching.

Chubb Wildfire Defense Services

Chubb partners with Wildfire Defense Systems, a private firefighting service. Chubb offers the services to customers in certain wildfire-prone areas. The service is free but homeowners who are eligible must enroll.

The Wildfire Defense Service is triggered when a wildfire is within three miles of a customer’s home, when a civil authority calls for an evacuation, or when Chubb decides to deploy the unit because of an approaching wildfire.

It offers:

  • Advice on ways to reduce potential wildfire damage.
  • Sending fire professionals to defending your property if necessary, including applying fire-blocking gel.
  • Returning after a fire to remove any gel, and return combustible material that was relocated until the fire ended.

The San Francisco Chronicle has a California Fire Tracker interactive map that shows information on current blazes.