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After a Wildfire–Where to Start, Part 2

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.

Hi again.  I hope reading Part 1 has been helpful.  Below are some more thoughts from me and from a couple of my fellow 2017 Firestorm survivors.

You have way more on your plate than you ever expected or wanted.  Slogging through information is daunting.  The info below and this website would be way too much to absorb in one or ten sittings.  Get your friends and family members who offer help to assist you in reading the reams of info you’ll find on various websites, facebook, etc., attend meetings with you, etc.  And yes, there is so much, you will find yourself needing to revisit certain topics again and again.  And again.

Information on this website is a compilation from multiple sources.  Please excuse any errors or misquotes, and always check with the correct agencies for correct, current information.  Neighbors Together ~ Strong & Resilient does not provide any advice or endorse any service provider or agency. 

Messages from 2017 Sonoma County Fire Survivors

From RJ in Santa Rosa:

  • Strength and Comfort in Numbers.
  • You are not going through this alone. Although everyone’s experience is going to be different, the commonalities are where you will find strength.
  • Attend the United PolicyHolders workshops. This is where I discovered the State Farm listserv. From there came the grassroots effort to claim at least 75% of Contents without Inventory. It’s also where I learned about filing a Request For Assistance (RFA) from the Department of Insurance.
  • Attend LegalAid workshops. You will learn about the nature of the contract between you and your insurance company. It may not be exactly what you thought it was. Read your policy (a lot).
  • Get involved in your community. Being a Block Captain gave me a degree of respect from City, State officials, Builders and my neighbors. I was no longer doing what I was doing just for myself. And I felt a bit more informed about what I needed to do now and next.
  • Concerning insurance, write letters and e-mails. Keep documentation. Avoid the telephone.
  • You will feel like there are a thousand meetings to go to. Go. Eventually you’ll figure out where you need to be.
  • Adjusters may be friendly but they are not your friend. You may need to fight for what is rightfully yours. You paid your premiums; now read your policy and make your claim.
  • From the City: Get your Plot Plan, and Building Plan and any Permits for additional construction. You may need to track this back to your original Architect. Share this with your adjuster. Communicate with your first adjuster; they don’t know your house or what has happened to its value since it was built but they have the ability to make what comes next simpler. Push that first adjuster to create a Scope of Loss (what it would cost to rebuild your home today).

A Santa Rosa fire survivor kindly wrote the below to a Carr fire survivor who reached out to her (through FB, I think).  She took the time to write the below, and writes specifically about just one insurance company, and allowed me to post.  This is what happens after a disaster:  Neighbors generously help each other.  A lot. 

United Policyholders has a great site and will probably start hosting workshops for your area the way they have been for ours.

They have a sample inventory, sample letters for negotiating with the insurance company, and all kinds of things on there. State Farm gave an advance on the contents portion of our claim, and we were able to “group” like items to make the list easier. We also asked that an adjuster sit down with us and help us create our list. It was painful and time-consuming, but we eventually got our max there. Antiques, fine art and other items don’t depreciate at all, and we didn’t really have to “prove” anything about the things we owned. Amazon and other sites keep your shopping history, which is really helpful.

I don’t know if anyone is getting together for the Carr fire, but you might be able to join the group for the October fires and learn from others’ experience, or start your own group. State Farm had 60% of the policies for people affected in our area. It has been invaluable to share tips and experience and support each other. Each adjuster seems to have a different style and they don’t all say the same things, and you will go through a series of people. Once you accept that it’s a business relationship, it gets easier to be calmly proactive in dealing with them. But sometimes you just get mad. 🙂

The CA Dept of Insurance has some general info about your rights:

Sign up for FEMA and get a number even if you don’t think you’ll need it. People have had mixed results with those grants and SBA loans, but after a period of time you won’t be eligible, so go ahead and go on their website or to the local center if you haven’t already and get registered.

And here’s a page specific to the October fires, from State Farm. Presumably, some of the same things will apply.

We have been fortunate in that we aren’t underinsured, though State Farm lowballed our dwelling estimate at first. We also have the benefit of the original builder rebuilding a number of homes in our subdivision, so that has helped a lot. The more you can organize with your neighbors, the more power you have and the more you can save on some of the costs. Remember that everything with State Farm is a negotiation, and they have boxes they need to check, but if they say no to something they have to explain where it is in the policy or why it is reasonable. Be firm, but polite, if you think you are right about something and try to get them to put things in writing.

I don’t think you need a certified copy of your policy, but you should ask for a complete copy of your policy (as was in effect at the time of the fire) to be mailed to you. And then read through it carefully.

I hope that helps some! There’s also a facebook group for wildfire emotional support that I think I can add you to. It isn’t for insurance stuff, but a place to talk about feelings with people who have been through similar losses.

Take care.


Your neighbor,

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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