The devastation caused by the Camp, Tubbs, Mendocino Complex, Thomas, Carr, Woolsey and Rim wildfires has left communities, families and businesses wondering how to rebuild in the aftermath of the destruction. Just as coastal communities live with the threat of hurricanes and floods, it seems communities in forested areas now sadly live under the constant threat of wildfires. Beyond the issue of prevention, a crucial question for victims of wildfires is how to be adequately compensated for losses suffered and moving forward?  Given the devastating nature of wildfires, victims may never be truly “made whole”, but by consulting the resources listed below they may gain piece of mind, confidence, knowledge and advocacy to aid in recovering for fire-related property loss and injury.

If a fire has destroyed your home, the first step is to contact your homeowners’ insurance company and report the loss. Begin the claims process as soon as possible to address immediate needs such as daily expenses and keep all receipts of purchases made while you’re away from your home. Also, keep a detailed record of all your communications with your insurance company, including taking notes of any telephone conversations that include the date, time, name of representative and the substance of the conversation. Next, begin contacting organizations willing to aid victims. Some useful resources are:

  • United Policyholders: This is a Bay-Area based national consumer non-profit that provides insurance claim guidance to wildfire survivors.  Their online library has tips for receiving a fair settlement from your insurance company on a total or partial loss of your home.
  • California Department of Insurance:  The California Insurance Commission is working hard to keep citizens updated on the latest news relating to fire insurance claims. There is a consumer hotline and an online complaint center available.
  • FEMA Guidebook: The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has published a guidebook for victims of fire disasters. The guide may help you keep track of the essential components of your claim and give you an idea of what to expect in the aftermath of a fire.

Potential legal claims following a devastating wildfire include those against insurance companies for coverage and underinsurance issues and those against any party who may have intentionally, negligently or recklessly started the fire. Potential recovery under such claims may include home loss or damage, wrongful death, burn injuries, smoke inhalation injuries, landscape and tree loss, rented home loss, large acreage loss, erosion, business damage and loss, insurance claim assistance, underinsurance claims, personal property damage and loss, and damages caused by utility companies. If you have suffered such losses you should contact your insurance company immediately and consult an attorney if appropriate.

David W. Wolfe is an associate attorney with Porter Simon licensed in California, with offices in Truckee and Tahoe City, California, and Reno, Nevada.

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The content contained and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author. This blog contains content and opinions concerning the law generally, and is not intended to constitute legal advice or to create any attorney‑client relationship with the reader. The reader should consult with an attorney about any specific legal issues prior to embarking on any course of action or inaction involving legal matters. The author makes no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the contents of this blog and expressly disclaims liability for any errors and omissions.