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October isn’t just breast cancer awareness month…it’s also “Fire Prevention Awareness” month. If you’re in Southern California, you know that it is still primetime wildfire season and it is important to exercise fire prevention awareness. It’s also important to understand what to do after a fire has damaged your property. Unfortunately, sometimes insurance companies try to cut corners on fire insurance claims in an attempt to save money, especially after a busy wildfire season. Knowing how to file a claim and collect all the benefits of your homeowner insurance policy is the key to getting your life back in order after a fire.

Here are top tips for filing a claim after fire damage:

1. Ask for an advance: If you were forced to evacuate, it’s likely you went for your most prized possessions rather than essentials like toiletries or clothes (that is if you were able to grab anything at all). Your homeowner’s policy will cover the cost to replace these items and you can get the money before even filing a claim. Ask your insurance company to bring a check to wherever you’re staying. Be careful not to go overboard though as this advance will be deducted from the total amount you finally receive from the insurance company.

2 . Make a list OR retrieve the list of everything you’ve lost: I always tell people to keep a list of all of their belongings, receipts, and important documents in a fire-safe box in their home at all times. If you’ve done this, make sure to retrieve that box from amongst the ruin. If you didn’t keep this, start making a list of everything you lost in the fire. Also, don’t throw anything away even if it’s completely destroyed. The insurance adjuster will want to see those things to include their personal property coverage.

3. File a claim immediately and report the following in your claim:

  • Date of loss
  • Type of loss or damage
  • Location of damage
  • Any related injuries
  • Others involved
  • Condition of the home
  • Description of damaged contents and personal property
  • Whether or not temporary repairs are necessary and were done
  • Police report

4. Document everything: Dealing with insurance companies is a tricky business. It will involve lots of calls, emails, letters and documents. Track all of this communication in a journal taking note of date and time, keep emails, make copies of all documents and keep the originals of everything, and keep repair estimates and receipts.

5. Secure your property: One of the most common mistakes people make is failing to secure their property to “mitigate damage”. If your home was completely destroyed and burnt to the ground, this is unnecessary of course. However, if only one section of your home is damaged, be sure to secure that area from further loss. Failing to do this only causes further delay and additional problems:

  • Cover holes in the walls and roof to protect from the elements
  • Board up or build a fence to prevent looters
  • Smolder all embers
  • Move property that is at risk of further damage

By following these tips, you can ensure a full reimbursement for your property that was damaged in a fire. Remember to keep calm and remain patient. These things take time, but these tips will help save you additional heartache.

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