What to Do When Fire Strikes

Kip Tips

What to Do When Fire Strikes

The California wildfire that started August 26 now has scorched about 122,000 acres and is threatening at least 10,000 homes, according to news reports. It's a reminder that disaster can strike at any time, and it pays to be prepared. 

Howard Mills, chief advisor of Deloitte & Touche's Insurance Industry Group and the former New York superintendent of Insurance, offers these tips for preparing before disaster strikes and what to do after a fire. Also see When Disaster Is at Your Doorstep to learn what the 2003 and 2007 California wildfires can teach you about protecting your possessions.

How to prepare

  1. Know what you have to lose. Take a home inventory, by video if possible.
  2. Know what your homeowners policy covers and difference between assessed value and actual replacement value. Too many people learn only after a fire that they were underinsured.  
  3. Clear your yard of items that could fuel a fire. 
  4. Prepare an emergency kit that includes medical supplies, cash, enough food and water for up to a week, pet supplies and camping equipment.
  5. Make sure your entire household knows the drill. Rehearse a ten-minute evacuation with your family – that may be all the advance warning you are given.

What to do after
  1. Take stock after the fire. If it's safe, take an inventory of damage. If you have been evacuated and didn't prepare an inventory of your belongings, do it now.
  2. Contact your insurance agent as soon as possible – get losses on record immediately. 
  3. Be smart about hiring contractors. Beware of fly-by-night service providers and keep receipts to ensure a smooth claims process.
  4. Reach out to your state insurance department if you are having difficulty reaching your insurer.
  5. Don't forget about the extras included in your insurance policy. Some policies offer payment for living expenses and temporary housing, among other perks.