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After a Wildfire–Where to Start, Part 1

Updated 11/18/2018 – Please see First Steps After a Wildfire Part A (All Fire Survivors) and First Steps After a Wildfire Part B (Insured Fire Survivors) for better organized tips.

Updated 11/18/2018 – Camp, Hill, Woolsey Fires Official Recovery Sites (& United Policyholders)

updated 11/8/2018 – Shasta County & the City of Redding, CA Wildfire Recovery & Rebuilding website

Shasta and Redding Mental Health & Wellness Services website

(Skip to Part 2)

Dear 2018 Northern California Fire Survivors: 

I am sorry you have to go through this.  Below are some thoughts from me, based on my experiences and those of my neighbors as we approach the one year anniversary of the the 2017 North Bay Fires.  These thoughts are from a homeowner to other homeowners who have partial or total wildfires losses.

I am sorry that I don’t have any resources for renters or the uninsured (but uphelp.org may have help for those with renters insurance, and no one should pass up any FEMA help, esp. if you are uninsured).

Everyone and everyone’s experience is different.  Easy insurance. Difficult insurance. Easy rebuilding.  Difficult rebuilding.  Rebuild or buy elsewhere.  Each family will decide how to move forward, how much to fight, how much to just accept in order to preserve sanity.  This website aims to help fire survivors make informed decisions, and to encourage, when possible, to work in community.  Neighborhood groups and groups of homeowners with the same insurance companies can be important in figuring things out, sharing some of the burden, and accomplishing some goals.

If anything on this website sounds like “You Must Do This,” we (Sonoma County fire survivors) really mean, “please consider so that you can make an informed decision” or “this is what our experience was.”  The last thing you need is to feel more pressure.  And we Sonoma County fire survivors are not experts.  But we’ve gone through a lot of what you have and will go through.

Neighbors Together ~ Strong & Resilient does not provide any advice or endorse any service provider or agency. 

If you owned your home and it was destroyed by fire:
  1. Start looking for temporary housing, knowing that you likely have up to two years coverage for temporary housing (if your fire is a state or federally declared disaster).
  2. Reach out to your agent, who will likely be able to issue you at least $10k for immediate expenses
  3. Request a complete copy of your policy, with all endorsements.  Sometimes it’s the adjuster, not the agent, that can provide this.
  4. Keep all receipts related to meals, housing, laundry, as well as all extra mileage (if any) driven from temporary housing to work, school, usual shopping trips, house-hunting, visiting your lot, doctor appointments, etc.
  5. You are not dumb. You are not crazy.  Insurance and rebuilding are complicated and crazy unto themselves. You will need to ask things more than once. To hear and read things multiple times. Memory may be affected. Irritability. Tears. Stress eating. Stress not-eating. Short tempers. Lack of focus. All, some, or none.
  6. Consider creating a separate email address to deal with fire-related emails. Truly.  I now have four of them, but you probably only need maybe one dedicated to communication with your adjuster, one dedicated to other fire-related stuff (like neighborhood group or insureds group), and then your original personal email for friends and family.
  7. Visit United Policyholders website often, as they update information all the time.
  8. If UP comes to town, the meetings are very helpful.  They are also sometimes at the DRC.
  9. Go to the UP North Bay Fires site.  uphelp.org/northbayfires  Videos from the workshops they’ve held in Santa Rosa are posted at the bottom.  UP schedules the workshops to coincide approximately with the various stages of a fire loss claim.  Don’t feel you need to watch them all at once.  Please don’t watch them all at once. 🙂
  10. As we learned from United Policyholders, we can ask for a new adjuster or ask to speak to a supervisor.
  11. Visit the California Department of Insurance website often, as information is updated all the time.  They welcome all questions, no matter how small. 1-800-927-4357
  12. Check out Helping Handbook:  A Resource for Individuals, Families, and Small Businesses by Morrison Foerster, a large law firm.  Tons of resources, contacts, etc.
  13. Form or join a neighborhood group if you can.
    • Email groups are great. Enlist the help of “standing” neighbors if necessary.  A “standing” neighbor hosts my neighborhood’s email group and a few insureds groups.
    • Neighborhood groups are whatever they need to be, depending on the neighborhood.  It can be one HOA or a group of them.  It can be several blocks big, or dozens of blocks big.
    • If you can get help for meeting spaces, etc., ask for it.  From local government.  From the local chamber of commerce. From churches, social organizations (eg Rotary, Lions), etc.
    • We have groups that have local government support and some that are just neighbors.
    • At the bottom of the Neighborhood page are testimonials on the benefits of neighborhood groups.
    • Many of the neighborhood groups regularly meet with City/County (as applicable) building permit staff and other relevant departments.
    • Group discounts, understanding processes faster, pooling resources can only happen when people are connected.
    • Even if the neighborhood group is only about rebuilding, etc., talking about the same questions, challenges, successes becomes emotionally supporting.
  14. Sign up for NextDoor, local fire-related facebook pages, City and County website newsletters and facebook pages. This helps you access important info, including from City and County.  Get your non-fire-affected friends and family to help keep track of all these resources.
  15. Notify the assessor and registrar of voters, among others, with updated mailing address, phone number, email address.  With everyone dispersed, make it easier on local agencies to be able to get you important information.  Really.
  16. Form or join a “carrier-specific” group (homeowners who share the same insurance company).  See the Insurance Groups page for tips and testimonials.   Even if the topic is insurance, talking about the same questions, challenges, successes becomes emotionally supporting (yup, that’s a copy-and-paste-sentiment).
  17. Get government help as necessary.  You may need to call more than one person, agency, etc.
    • US Congressmember, for example:
      • Federal issues such as telecommunications (eg ATT, Comcast – ps they shouldn’t be charging you for destroyed equipment–it’s just good business sense)
      • SBA (more on that below)
      • FEMA
      • Become familiar with and invite one of their field reps to regularly attend your neighborhood meetings. (They regularly attend ours)
    • State Senator, for example:
    • Local Government.  I’ve found that I’ve had to call around to find the correct department or the folks willing or able to help.  And sometimes it’s from surprising places.  One place/office I thought I could get help from was unwilling/unable.  Another one who I thought was the wrong person, turned out to be the right person.  Note, my understanding of Shasta and Trinity counties is that they have far less staff and resources than Sonoma County, so your experience will not be the same.
  18. SBA Loans
    • You will likely be told to apply.
    • You will likely apply because you may be underinsured, fear being underinsured, or will need a bridge loan (because your mortgage lender will keep control of the amount of your insurance payouts equal to your mortgage balance).
    • You will likely be rejected, given a small amount, or given a large amount and then have it taken away.  Or be told that your insurance coverage is enough (!).
    • You will likely want to not bother with a “reconsideration” because you have too much on your plate or you think they’ll just say no, or feel convinced that you don’t qualify.
    • I strongly suggest that you bite the bullet and spend the time on the reconsideration; it may be easier than you think and worth it.  Contact your US Congressmember‘s office for help.  If they don’t know how to help, have them call Rep. Huffman’s office or Rep. Thompson’s office to learn how to deal with this.
    • We experienced all of the above BUT many of us did give up hope and didn’t pursue it.  We didn’t know that reconsideration might really work.
  19. Emotional Recovery.
    • Oxygen mask on yourself first, then on those who depend on you.
    • Eat ~ Hydrate ~ Move ~ Sleep (eye roll) ~ Spend time with loved ones – I can’t do everything on this list every day.  I don’t beat myself up if I don’t.  I use it as a focus point, not as more pressure.  I didn’t bother with trying to get more sleep in the first six months.  I knew it would eventually come.  This link has applicable information, but the services described are specific to Sonoma County, sorry.  Seek out the services available in your county, if you are inclined to do so.
    • Everyone deals with this stuff differently.
    • I know you are sick of answering some of the well-meaning, ignorant, or outright ridiculous questions and comments. Truly. I get it.
    • See Number 1 above.
  20. Protect Yourself.
    • Understand as best as you can your insurance policy, applicable California law, etc.  See all above re UP, Department of Insurance, Groups, enlisting the help of family members, friends.
    • Insurers often employ out-of-state adjusters who do not know California insurance regulations.  They may tell you the wrong thing.  Some insurers will change your adjuster every two months or so (just so you are prepared for this). The more you are informed, the better you are protected.  As UP says, “assertive but polite,” keep a claims journal, and everything in writing (email is okay).  And many of us in Sonoma County say, read UP resources.
    • When it comes time to rebuild, read up on how to protect yourself.  You can start on the Rebuilding Page (ignoring the Sonoma County-specific stuff) and seek out local resources.
    • If you have a mortgage, dwelling insurance payouts will be payable to you and your mortgage lender.  Your lender will keep the amount that represents your mortgage and must give you the rest (if any).  They will keep these funds and disburse them as you rebuild (or you choose to pay off your mortgage).  As long as they keep any insurance funds while you still hold a mortgage, the lender must pay you interest, “California Civil Code Section 2954.8 requires that your bank or mortgage company pay 2% simple interest on your rebuild monies that the bank or mortgage company is holding on your behalf.”

Whew, that’s more than enough for now.  I’m sure I’ve forgotten lots of things.

Although this site was started for 2017 Sonoma County Area firestorm survivors, you may want to click around on this website to see what might be applicable to you.  But maybe not right this second.

And hopefully, one of your neighbors has already created a similar website just for your area.

End of Part 1.

Part 2 will be notes from other fire survivors.  You can read it next time.  In the meantime, all of us here hope each of you can find time to do at least some of the following every day:

Eat ~ Hydrate ~ Move ~ Sleep (eye roll) ~ Spend time with loved ones

And if waking up is the best you can do today, we understand that, too.

Wishing you the best in your journey forward toward recovery.

Your neighbor,
Vita
StrongerTogether

Neighbors Together ~ Strong & Resilient (NTSR) does not provide any advice or endorse any service provider or agency. 

October 2017 Northern California Firestorm: Tubbs Fire in Santa Rosa: Coffey Park; Fountaingrove (Hidden Valley Estates (HVE) is lumped with FG); Larkfield-Wikiup-Mark West-Riebli; Rincon Valley-Deer Trail-Calistoga Rd; Bennett Ridge (Nuns/Annadel Fire) . . . See more . . . »

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