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The dry fall of 2016 in Western North Carolina has seen over a dozen wildfires, with tens of thousands of acres burned.  In years past we have had damaging floods, windstorms and some regular house fires, but few of us ever expect to contend with a wildfire.  This unusual occurrence has caused homeowners to ponder the question of insurance coverage in the event of a wildfire.

Homeowners insurance policies cover damage to a structure from fire that emanates from outside the structure burning in (“wildfire”), the same as it covers a fire starting inside burning out.  But what about other expenses incurred to property affected by wildfire when the flames don’t actually touch the building?  There are a variety of coverages available to respond.

The cost to remove, clean or repair surfaces and contents of houses permeated by smoke, soot, ash or odor is covered by homeowners insurance.  Everything has to be wiped down, the air hydroxylized (washed) and valuables curated. Many items are sent for dry-cleaning, and the exterior of the house is usually pressure washed.

If you have to evacuate, the additional living expenses, such as lodging, food and transportation are covered.  Any looting or vandalism that you may suffer while you are away is also covered.  There is some reimbursement for charges that may be made to you by the fire department.

Trees, shrubs and plants damaged by the wildfire are covered up to certain limits. The cost of debris removal may also be covered, as well as damage caused by water or slurry used to fight the fire.

Wildfires are too easily started in dry fall conditions with leaves on the ground.  The best cure is prevention, with great care given to avoid all burning in prone areas and keeping flames of any type or size away from the area.  Most damage from wildfires is to trees and grounds, but when it invades your property – get out – and your up-to-date homeowners insurance will protect you well.

Jim Stickney, President – Insurance Service of Asheville - jstickney@isa-avl.com

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