Guest Post by Eric Kossian of Leavenworth Insurance
The areas surrounding the towns of Leavenworth, Cle Elum, Twisp, Chelan, Entiat, Winthrop and parts of Wenatchee are some of the most fire prone areas in Washington, where there are large numbers of homeowners at risk. From year to year the wild land fuels, level of drought, temperature and weather combine to make a moderate to severe fire season. You can view the full seasonal assessment each year at www.predictiveservices.nifc.gov/outlooks/outlooks.htm
These areas are some of the most lightning struck areas in the entire United States (often in the form or dry lightning) and it is not uncommon to have 10- 20 fires started from one passing storm further compounding the problem for firefighters.
What Has Been Learned From Past Fires?
1. Stay alert for evacuations during mid June to Oct. If there has been a lightning storm or you smell smoke, turn on the radio to listen for any evacuation updates. With limited Sheriff personnel and a fast moving fire, they do not always have the time to notify everyone door to door so make your own decision. If you are advised to evacuate, do so immediately; fires can move 20- 40 miles in an hour under the right conditions. Do not think that you will be able to make any difference by staying; leave that to the firemen. If you have time, close all windows and doors when leaving to prevent smoke damage and remove from against the house (at least 30 ft. away) any easily burnable items such as stacked firewood.
2. Prepare your Property. Have only very low vegetation (such as green grass), if any, surrounding the 1st 50 feet from the home. Any trees within 50 ft should be limbed up to 15 ft to prevent fire turning your pine trees into flaming torches. Firefighters will make decisions about whether or not your home is "defensible" by the level of fuels present immediately surrounding your home. You might even ask your local fire dept. to give you their recommendations for what you can do to make your property safer.
3. Fire losses are basically one of 3 levels: 1. If a house is actually burned at all, it has a 90% chance of being a total loss. 2. Only 10% of homes with actual fire damage are partial burns, such as a garage door or deck. 3. Smoke Damage: After a wild fire, it is not uncommon to see no damage to homes but all their contents in piles outside. (source: Insurance Journal May 18,2009)
4. 5 key things to look for in a good homeowner's policy. Many of the best insurance companies offer less than ideal policies. Not all policies are the same; here's some key things to consider when thinking about forest fire insurance:
A. Does your home have "full replacement cost" or the more limiting "extended replacement cost" like 95% of policies have. That can make a difference of $100,000 or more in out of pocket costs after any fire.
B. Does your policy have "ordinance and law" coverage to pay for current code requirements or will your policy just pay to replace what was there?
C. Does your policy have "additional living expense" (ALE) coverage or broader "loss of use" (LOU) coverage? ALE will not pay for your additional living expenses if you are just required to evacuate for a week but have no damage to your home, whereas LOU pays for up to two weeks when "civil authority prohibits use".
D. Furthermore, some companies limit coverage from ALE or LOU to a specific time limit of 12-24 mo. For larger home or in areas where the number of homes having to be replaced exceeds the number of quality contractors to go around it is very unlikely the 12 mo. limit on additional living expenses will be enough.
E. Many policies limit either ALE or LOU to 20% of the estimated replacement cost of the home. Better policies provide 25%, 30% or just a time limit and that can mean an additional $20-40,000 in out of pocket costs paid by the insurance company for the average homeowner.
Eric Kossian, Underwriting Specialist, owns an independent insurance agency catering to financially responsible homeowner clients throughout Washington State. Eric is happy to answer your questions about forest fire insurance, flood insurance, earthquake insurance and more. He can be reached at by email at Eric@leavenworthinsurance.com