Bighorn, Bush, East Desert, Ocotillo, Sawtooth. These are five of multiple brush fires that have ignited in Arizona since the start of May.
In some of them, residents of surrounding homes have had to evacuate.
And with wildfire season upon Arizona, residents need to have multiple action plans in place should they have to leave their homes for an extended period — or in some cases, forever.
“Preparedness is key. The high temperatures, dry conditions, and heavy wind patterns in recent years have led to very devastating wildfires that spread more quickly than ever before,” said Mike Gulla, director of underwriting at Hippo Insurance. “Be prepared, have a go bag with some essentials at the ready in case you need to evacuate on short notice. If you have a family (especially with pets and kids) make sure you have a plan in place that everyone knows. Where to meet, when to leave, what to bring. Any level of preparedness is better than no preparedness.”
Mr. Gulla says a standard home insurance policy in Arizona should cover a wildfire loss unless it is specifically excluded as a covered peril.
“It would be uncommon for coverage not to be included, however it is possible,” he told the Daily Independent. “It’s encouraged to check your homeowners policy to make sure you’re covered, and if you’re unsure, call your insurance provider. Since Arizona can be prone to wildfires, the state’s wildfire response initiatives through the department of forestry is another great resource for homeowners. You’ll also find preventative tips to combat wildfire season and what to do if you experience a wildfire in your area.”
Preparing yourself for life without your home can be a stressful time, but that dedication could pay off later on. Luckily, among the wildfires in Arizona only eight primary residences — near the Ocotillo Fire — have been destroyed, forcing those who live there to seek a new home.
Mr. Gulla says when you return home after a fire, the first thing to do is take precautions of any structural damage, active electrical currents, and lingering embers.
“Contact your home insurance provider to report your losses, being as specific as possible about when and where damage occurred,” Mr. Gulla said. “Photos and video footage can go a long way during these circumstances. Do not throw anything away until after you’ve made an inventory of the damage. Inquire about policy coverage and filing requirements and record their answers.
“You’ll also want to obtain a fire report from your local fire department, fire prevention bureau or fire marshal. This will detail the condition the house was in when first responders arrived as well as an incident number. Last but not least, contact your landlord or mortgage lender so they know what has happened and that you’re taking the right steps.”
For those in wildfire prone areas, there are several items in your home to insure.
“Having a homeowners policy that provides adequate coverage for all your belongings is key,” Mr. Gulla said. “Start by making sure the full value to rebuild your home is covered in the event of a total loss from a wildfire. From there, you want to be sure that the contents within your home have the proper amount of coverage. Take an inventory of all your belongings so you can properly assess what you own. Not all personal items are covered by insurance. When it comes to the possibility of a wildfire, it’s important to think of the things that are not replaceable, like family heirlooms and photos. For these items, have a plan in place so it becomes easier to locate and pack away what cannot be replaced in case you do need to evacuate your home quickly because of a wildfire.”
To ensure your properties are insured, Mr. Gulla says it’s important to read the fine print and talk to an insurance professional.
“Take an active interest in reviewing your policy to confirm everything is accurate,” he said. “Make sure that the reconstruction estimate completed by your insurance company includes accurate data points about your home (size, age, roof type, building material, etc).”
Situations are different for people who rent an apartment or condo. There, it’s really important to cover your belongings, Mr. Gulla says.
“Coverage for the building/structure are likely covered by a master policy for the building,” he said. “The contents of your unit are yours and your responsibility.”
However, condo owners are likely responsible for the interior of the unit, and Mr. Gulla says it’s a good idea to make sure you have a proper condo (HO6) policy that will cover it.