What You Need to Know About Wildfires and Insurance Coverage

Homes near wildfire burning in hills
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Wildfires most often happen during certain months of the year known as fire season. This season used to span only a few months. But due to environmental changes over time, the fire season now stretches from late spring through the end of the year. This means it lasts six to eight months.

Wildfires have become so common that many say there is no "fire season" anymore. The risk is present all year. There already have been more than 38,000 wildfires in 2020. This exceeds last year's number in the same time period.

The ability for a wildfire to spread has a lot to do with the environment. But 85% of wildfires are caused by humans. The rest are natural, caused by lightning or lava. Wildfire embers blown by wind cause many of the fires that burn down homes. As a homeowner, how can you take steps to protect yourself from the financial impact that wildfire can have? The answer is by getting wildfire insurance.

Here's a breakdown of what wildfire insurance covers, how it works, and where to get coverage.

Key Takeaways

  • As a homeowner, you can get wildfire insurance to protect yourself from the financial impact of wildfires.
  • Standard residential insurance policies will cover damage from fire and smoke. Therefore, wildfire damage is often included in homeowners insurance.
  • If you are in an area that is at high risk for wildfire, some companies may not be willing to insure you. In cases like this, you can look at a FAIR Plan or other options.

What Is Wildfire Insurance?

A standard home insurance policy will cover fire damage. But if you live in an area where you are at high risk for wildfires, you may need to buy extra coverage. Many types of insurance provide coverage for wildfires; there is no one policy to protect you overall.

For instance, home insurance will cover wildfire damage to your home, land, and personal belongings. Auto insurance will provide coverage for your car. Getting a good policy is essential; it will help you get paid the most in a claim.

Wildfire insurance coverage will vary based on the type of damage you have. It also depends on the kind of policy and whether you live in a high-risk zone.

Warning

There are 4.5 million properties are at high to extreme risk of damage in just 10 states. Not all insurers will cover wildfire damage in a high-risk area. You may have to get a FAIR Plan policy.

What Kind of Wildfire Damage Is Covered?

Standard residential insurance policies will cover damage from fire and smoke. Therefore, wildfire damage is often included in these policies. That means you'll be covered for:

For condo owners or renters, residential insurance provides coverage for your personal contents. It also covers additional living expenses. One important factor in knowing how much you will be paid for a wildfire claim is understanding the basis of claims settlement in your policy.

Note

Your comprehensive car insurance coverage will cover damage by wildfire. If you only have minimum car insurance, or have liability only, then your car will not be covered against fire.

How Much Is Paid Out for a Wildfire Claim?

Every insurance policy is different. This means the limits in your policy will be the factors that decide how much you might be paid for a claim resulting from a wildfire. How can you ensure you get paid the most when you make a claim? Choose a good insurance company that provides the highest limits.

Wildfire Claims Settlement Options

There are two categories of coverage: Actual Cash Value (ACV) and Replacement Cost. An insurance company can pay a claim based on the following options:

  • Actual cash value or replacement cost: The ACV policy will only pay depreciated value. This will not be enough to rebuild your home. Replacement Cost will give you enough to rebuild your home (up to the policy limit). ACV and Replacement Cost can apply to the building alone, or to the building and personal property. Replacement Cost is optional with many insurers, so you need to ask what your coverage is when you buy your policy. Or, see if you qualify for an upgrade. For instance, some homes with older roofs do not qualify for certain types of coverage. Each insurance company has different criteria. Shopping around for the company that will give you the best coverage will make thousands of dollars in the difference in what you get paid in a claim.
  • Guaranteed or extended replacement cost: This coverage will pay up to a certain amount beyond the insured value. That's if the cost of rebuilding is higher than the amount insured on your policy. To qualify for this kind of coverage, you have to insure your building to value. If your home is underinsured, and you have a claim due to a wildfire, you will not be paid what you need. And you may not qualify for replacement cost settlements.

Tip

Sometimes you can purchase an endorsement on your policy to get the extra coverage you need.

Other Coverages That Affect How Much You Get Paid

Your choice of the insurance company and the level of coverage you choose will also dictate how much you will get paid for the following:

  • Additional Living Expense (ALE) Coverage: This covers you if your home is made uninhabitable by a covered risk, such as wildfire. You may be able to get compensation for your ALE while your home is rebuilt or made habitable again. Most policies have limits to how much they will pay. You can increase the standard limits by asking to add more coverage. Some policies for high-value homes offer unlimited ALE coverage. Each company is different.
  • Limits: Insurance policies can contain clauses that limit the amount you will get for certain types of personal property. Be sure to ask your insurance company if the limits apply in a fire claim. Then, ask about any extra coverage available to you.

Where Can You to Get Wildfire Insurance?

You can often wildfire insurance from your home insurance company.

If you are in an area that is at high risk for wildfire, some companies may not be willing to insure you. In cases like this, you can look at a FAIR Plan. Or, contact your state commissioner's office for guidance. In California, for instance, residents can get wildfire insurance through the California FAIR Plan.