Insurance claims and wildfires: What you need to know


A good first step is to simply contact your insurance company and open a claim

ESTACADA, Ore. (KOIN) — With thousands in the northwest suffering losses, the sheer scale of the damage makes this wildfire season an unprecedented disaster. So much so, that insurance companies have actually started to fly in help from across the country to process the growing number of claims.

Local insurance agents say they have never experienced anything like it. One agent in Estacada said he’s already received more than 120 claims.

“This is unprecedented,” said Estacada Insurance Agent Paul Strobel. “You’ve got the fire, then you’ve got COVID, which will impact some of the rebuild and will impact the time it takes to get things done. Burndowns are priority one—people are displaced.”

As people start returning to their properties and assessing the damage left by wildfires, the long process of starting over can seem overwhelming. A good first step is to simply contact your insurance company and open a claim.

A chimney marks where a home once stood in Gates, Ore. September 19, 2020 (KOIN)

For those who have to rebuild, the claims process might take up to two years, so you don’t have to remember every item that was lost right away. In fact, you might remember things in the winter and fall and you can add that loss to your claim later. Insurance companies have inventory worksheets that will help to jog your memory.

“Focus on the big stuff first,” said Strobel. “TVs, appliances—stuff like that. Don’t worry about dishes, clothing—they know you have that stuff and a way to factor that in.”

For those who had to evacuate a Level 3 zone but did not lose their home to a fire, there may still be some financial help available to cover other unexpected costs.

“When you evacuated, there are things like living expenses, hotels, mileage to get to hotels, food, spoilage as you come home—those are all things typically covered under your policy,” said Strobel.

Homeowners are likely covered for other things like burned trees on the property that need to be removed, or damage from fire lines that crews built. It’s important to keep receipts for everything and to document the expenses.

On Friday, Sept. 18, the state of Oregon issued an emergency order to give residents more time to file claims. There is also a grace period for paying insurance premiums.

The state has put together a group of advocates to answer insurance questions from the public. The toll-free number is: (888) 877-4894.

ESTACADA, OR – SEPTEMBER 14: Larry Weyand (L) hugs Darwin Seim in front of Weyand’s burned mobile home at the Clackamas River RV Park on September 14, 2020 in Estacada, Oregon. Multiple wildfires continued to burn in Oregon as thousands remained evacuated across the West. (Photo by Nathan Howard/Getty Images)

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