Oregon says people who lost homes or suffered other damage from the wildfires that erupted across the state this month should contact their insurance companies immediately to begin their claims.
But they should be prepared for a long process as they work to get their payouts and start to rebuild.
Authorities say the fires that erupted earlier this month burned more than 1 million acres in Oregon in just one week, and they’re still burning. Homeowners and firefighters are just starting to tally the damage. At least nine people died and hundreds of homes burned.
As evacuation zones open up, people are beginning to return to their properties to discover homes, barns and vehicles destroyed. Brad Hilliard, spokesman for Oregon Department of Consumer & Business Services, said it will take them time to tally just what they’ve lost – and more time to recoup that loss as insurers work to cope with the blazes’ unprecedented toll.
“We encourage people to take their time with the process and also understand that your insurance company is going to need time to handle things,” Hilliard said. “Because they’re handling a large number of claims across a number of states.”
Fires this month have spanned Washington, Oregon and California. The total financial losses figure to be staggering, after fires devastated the southern Oregon communities of Phoenix and Talent. The Beachie Creek fire east of Salem destroyed at least 470 homes. Dozens more homes were lost to fires in Clackamas County.
California wildfires in November 2018 destroyed 14,000 homes and generated $11.4 billion in insurance claims within two months.
This year’s blazes on the West Coast appear to have done far less damage, but the total devastation is plainly severe.
In Oregon, homeowner insurance policies typically cover wildfires in the same way they would cover a typical house fire, but Hilliard said autos – even if they were in a home’s garage – require separate coverage.
The state offers several pieces of advice on how to begin the claims process:
1/4 u00b7 Notify insurance companies immediately about evacuation and damage. Policies will often cover short-term housing for people in evacuation zones, and will typically provide long-term housing while homeowners rebuild.
1/4 u00b7 Ask about advances on your claim to pay for supplies and equipment to get by. Even if it takes a long time to settle a claim, advance payments may be available quickly.
1/4 u00b7 Save receipts and keep a running list of what’s been lost. Keep a paper and pen handy to make notes when things spring to mind, and look through old photos and videos that might help jog your memory. Figure out how long your insurance company will give you to provide a complete list.
1/4 u00b7 Photograph damaged items but don’t throw them out until a claims adjuster has seen them. People living in manufactured homes can visit a state website for ownership documentation that may have been destroyed in the fire.
1/4 u00b7 Contact your mortgage company to learn how it manages insurance payments.
It’s too soon to know how this months’ blazes will affect insurance rates in places where wildfires burned, or elsewhere in Oregon’s wildland areas, Hilliard said. But the NW Insurance Council said Friday that the state is preparing to issue an emergency order to prohibit insurers from canceling insurance policies in fire affected areas, or because of a wildfire claim.
The state will also require insurers allow a grace period of premium payments on policies in areas affected by the wildfire.
Oregon fields 1,400 insurance and financial complaints a year, according to Hilliard, who said the state can help mediate when disputes arise between policyholders and their insurance carrier.
On Friday, Hilliard said people who suffered wildfire losses should resist any pressure to settle their claims before they’re ready, and to carefully catalog what they’ve lost and what it was worth as they prepare to rebuild.
“It takes time to work through that,” Hilliard said, “to rebuild and replace what was lost.”
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