California is no stranger to wildfires, but 2020 has been one of the most devastating wildfire seasons in decades. In addition to the tragic loss of wildlife, millions of acres of land have been scorched, and homes, businesses, and other structures have been destroyed. First responders have been putting their lives on the line every day to try to control the blaze and protect civilians. However, over 40 lives have been lost to these devastating wildfires. Although nothing can compare to the loss of life, the damage that wildfires can cause to one’s home, business, or other property can be physically, emotionally, and financially devastating. In addition to the actual flames, the smoke from a wildfire can also cause extensive property damage. An experienced property damage lawyer will assist homeowners with the claims process and seek the financial compensation they deserve.
According to the North American Seasonal Fire Assessment and Outlook from the National Interagency Fire Center, the 2020 wildfire season has been so severe because of the late arrival of the annual monsoon rains in the Southwest, as well as other factors. This year alone, over 42,000 wildfires have burned over 6.7 million acres of land. Of those wildfires, 87 active fires have caused over 4.7 million acres of property damage. Unfortunately, because of climate change and the continued rise in temperature, wildfires are expected to be a major concern for years to come.
What Are the Most Common Causes of Wildfires?
Up to 85 percent of wildfires are caused by people. From leaving campfires unattended, to discarding a lit cigarette in an area where there is dry vegetation, to intentional acts of arson, these acts of carelessness or negligence can cause wildfires that are extremely difficult to control. However, the growing severity of some of the latest wildfires can be attributed to the following factors:
- Rising temperatures: According to a 2016 study by the National Academy of Sciences, climate change has doubled the number of acres burned since the mid-1980s. Rising temperatures increase evaporation, which makes the land drier. Wildfires are more likely to occur when the temperatures climb and there is less moisture in the air.
- Shorter winters: When the winter is shorter and there is not as much snow, there is less snowmelt in the spring. As a result, the soil and vegetation are dry.
- Pests: Certain pests, including the pine bark beetle, do not die during the shorter winters. The beetle-infested trees die and become very dry, which increases the risk of forest fires.
- Drought: When there is a reduction in precipitation over an extended period as a result of a lack of rainfall, it creates very dry conditions. Trees, bushes, and other plant life become very dry and susceptible to wildfires.
What Types of Damage Do Wildfires Cause?
The obvious damage caused by wildfires is from the actual flames, which can destroy properties and their foundations. However, the smoke from wildfires can also cause extreme damage to homes, buildings, landscaping, furniture, and other household belongings. The following are types of damage that flames and smoke can cause:
- Roofs can become damaged from burning embers that drift over from nearby flames.
- The concrete structure of the building or home can crack as a result of dehydration and prolonged heat-exposure.
- Extreme heat can cause walls to become damaged.
- Windows can become discolored and warped.
- Carpets, rugs, clothes, and upholstery can become damaged and discolored.
- Fire and smoke can damage furniture.
- Smoke can damage plants and cause the soil to become contaminated.
How Can I Protect My Property from a Wildfire?
If a homeowner lives in an area that is more likely to be affected by wildfires, safety should always be a top priority, even if that means gathering up as many valuable and essential items as possible before leaving the property and getting to a safe place. However, there are steps that can be taken to minimize the damage caused by fire and smoke, including the following:
- Move all flammable or combustible objects or materials away from the property.
- Close all doors and windows to keep as much smoke and soot from penetrating the inside of the home as possible.
- Outdoor furniture should either be covered or moved inside to prevent them from being damaged.
- Do not throw away damaged furniture or other items if they can be cleaned or repaired.
- Turn off the air conditioning system.
What Impact Do Wildfires Have on the Economy?
In 2017, wildfires destroyed roughly 10 million acres, which generated $21 billion in losses. The following year, over 8.7 million acres were burned, which resulted in approximately $24 billion in damage. Together, this is over $45 billion in damage in just two years. Considering how severe the wildfires have been in 2020 so far, the total costs associated with this year’s wildfires are likely to be just as high, if not higher.
What Steps Do I Need to Take When Filing a Property Damage Claim?
Wildfires are an unfortunate reality in parts of California, so it is crucial that homeowners take the necessary steps to ensure that their property has the appropriate coverage. Fortunately, most homeowner’s insurance policies cover the costs associated with wildfire damage, including fire, smoke, and ash. However, it is important that homeowners understand there are some exceptions. For example, if the home is located within 2,500 feet of a canyon or is in an area that is considered at high risk by insurers, a homeowner may be required to pay extra for the coverage. In some cases, the insurance company may deny coverage altogether if the property is in a particularly high-risk location. Homeowners are urged to closely review their insurance policies so that they understand what is and is not covered in the event of a wildfire.
The typical homeowner’s insurance policy covers a wide range of items, including the following:
- Dwelling coverage: This includes any damage to the home, garage, tool shed, or deck.
- Personal property coverage: This would cover damage to furniture, clothing, jewelry, and electronics.
When filing a property damage claim, homeowners are urged to take the following steps:
- Keep an inventory of all household belongings. This will help the homeowner complete the proof of loss forms more quickly. The inventory list should be updated as the homeowner accumulates or gets rid of belongings.
- Record the damage to all property by taking pictures of the property and the items that were damaged by the fire.
- Inspect all items closely after they have been cleaned. If the homeowner believes that the item is beyond repair, he or she may insist on a fair replacement value settlement for that item.
- Contact the insurance company after documenting the damage to the home. The insurance company will need to inspect the home and document the damage. The homeowner should take detailed notes on the inspection and document all conversations with the insurance agent.
- Make sure that the inspection is performed by a qualified person. Ideally, the inspector should be an independent contractor who does not derive the majority of his or her business from the homeowner’s insurance company. The homeowner should request copies of credentials to confirm that the inspector is a trained professional who has experience in performing air quality and particulate assessments.
- If the insurance company is not willing to pay for an investigation to determine all the damage caused by the wildfire, the homeowner should consider paying for a qualified inspector to assess the damage to the home. The inspector should have proven experience testing homes that have been exposed to wildfires and who have worked with Certified Industrial Hygienists (CIH). These individuals test for smoke, soot, char, and other contaminants. Field testers will determine whether there are particulates such as carbon, ash, or soot on any of the surfaces inside the home. In addition, a field tester can test the air for off-gassing that is specific to wildfires. The results of these tests will be sent to the homeowner’s insurance company and will help determine the type of cleaning and repair methods that will be necessary to thoroughly clean the home and ensure that it is safe to inhabit. Field testers generally charge between $2,000 and $4,000 for the testing process, laboratory work, and generating a written report.
- The homeowner should get a second opinion. Even experienced professionals may have different assessments. It is always a good idea to get a second opinion when assessing wildfire damage.
Los Angeles Property Damage Lawyers at ACTS Law Advocate for Victims of Wildfire Damage
If your home or property was seriously damaged in a wildfire, you are urged to contact the Los Angeles property damage lawyers at ACTS Law at your earliest convenience. We will assist you with every step of the claims process and negotiate with the insurance company on your behalf. Our dedicated team will address all your questions and concerns and ensure that your legal rights are protected at all times. We will work tirelessly to obtain the financial compensation you deserve. To schedule a free, confidential consultation, call us today at 833-ACTS-LAW or contact us online.
With offices in San Diego and Los Angeles, we serve clients throughout Southern California.