Fire Loss & Insurance Claims

Idaho and Washington are experiencing some devastating fires.  To give you an idea of just how bad it is, take a look at this graphic, from  This portion of the map shows the locations of wildfires, and the full map shows how the smoke from these fires has reached all the way to Ontario.

The National Interagency Fire Center reports that there are currently 15 major fires in Idaho, none of which are contained.  It seems as though every local community has been battling fires:  the Big Lost fire near Moscow; the Clearwater Complex and Lawyer Complex fires in the Kamiah area; the Deadwood Mountain fire near Elk City, the Municipal fire near Orofino, and the Slide fire east of Lowell.  In fact, this fire season has been so bad, that a fire located near St. Maries, Idaho has been named the “Not Creative” fire.

The Center reports that there are 20 major fires in Washington, only one of which is contained.  A few of the areas particularly hit hard are Colville, Omak, Spokane, Wenatchee, and Chelan.  The Chelan County Sheriff’s Office has reported that at least 50 homes have burned in that area as a result of the wildfires.  The most recent update from the Kamiah area is that at least 42 homes and 79 outbuildings have been lost.

As people look to rebuild what was lost, the first step is often donations from others.  Officials have asked people who want to donate funds or goods to send their donations to the Salvation Army in Lewiston at this time.  You can also keep track of what is needed by monitoring Kamiah Distributions & Donations on Facebook.  The next step for people who have suffered loss is to submit a claim to their insurance company.  The following sets forth some guidelines to follow when making your insurance claim.

Suggestion 1:  Contact your insurance company as soon as possible.  In most cases, it is a good idea to call your insurance company and let them know that you suffered a loss.  At that point, you probably are not ready to tell them the amount of your loss, and you certainly should not speculate about how much it will be.  You can, however, tell them about the general nature of the loss.  The reason for contacting your insurer early is that it may put you on the fast track for receiving payment.
When you report a loss, the insurance company puts you in contact with one of its agents, who investigates the claim.  This person is called the “claims adjuster.”  On a standard claim, the adjuster is usually from this general area.  However, when regional catastrophes occur, insurance companies often send claims adjusters from around the country to the impacted region.  These insurance storm chasers often come to the region before most of the claims are even reported.  How quickly you are able to meet with an adjuster likely depends upon the nature of your claim and when you contacted your insurer.

Suggestion 2:  Don’t start giving numbers.  The claim to your insurance company will be a detailed list of the losses you suffered.  Creating that claim takes time and is often tedious.  It almost never helps to start with a number that will either be too high or too low at the end of the process.  Just be patient on giving your insurer or the claims adjuster any numbers.

Suggestion 3:  Don’t be shy to ask for an advance.  After suffering a fire loss, you probably found yourself without essentials.  One way to get what you need is to ask for an advance against your ultimate fire loss claim payment.  You can use this money to buy essentials like toiletries, clothes, school supplies, etc.  In addition, you can often use this money to pay for staying in a hotel or rental while you are displaced from your home.  However, there are two important things you should keep in mind:  (1) don’t assume that the insurance company will cover all your purchases or the full cost of your purchases, and (2) any advance will likely be deducted from the total amount you finally receive.

Suggestion 4:  Ask for a certified copy of your complete policy.  In your very first conversation with your insurance company, ask them to send you a certified copy of your complete insurance policy.  A copy is “certified” when it has been signed as being a true and accurate copy of the original policy.  Why do you need a copy of your complete policy?  You need it because the policy is the contract between you and your insurance company.  You won’t be able to speak confidently about what your claim should look like or what money you are owed until you have that complete policy.  Pages that summarize the policy just won’t do it.

Here are a few things you should look at:
  • What are your policy limits?
  • Does your policy cover the Actual Cash Value of your lost items or the Replacement Value?
  • Are there any exclusions that apply to you?
  • Are there any limits on particular categories of items?

Suggestion 5:  Make a list of lost and damaged items.  Insurance companies want to see a list with as much detail as possible.  This is sometimes referred to as a “Proof of Loss.”  Your list should include the type of item and the number of items; at some point, your list will also likely include what you think the actual value of the item was just prior to loss and, depending on your policy, the replacement value.  Remember that the insurance company will not want to pay more than it thinks your property is worth.  You may need to support your values with receipts, construction bids, and other such documents showing why you are right about the value.

Suggestion 6:  Protect all your property, even the damaged items.  Remember that the insurance adjuster will want to see the damage.  In addition, you want to protect your property in the event that the insurance company argues that some of it is useable and not a loss.

Suggestion 7:  Don’t let the insurance company drag its feet or pressure you to close the claim.  Once you are confident that you have satisfied your obligations under the policy and that you have submitted a good claim, remain confident.  The best way to get a fair and prompt payment is to keep a written record of your actions and the actions of the insurance company.  Demand payment for those items that are undisputed.  Work hard to substantiate the claim for those items that are disputed.  This is why you paid premiums for all those years, don’t be sheepish about holding the insurance company to its end of the bargain.

– Sam Creason

If you would like to discuss these matters with Mr. Creason or another attorney at CMDG, please contact our office to set up an appointment.
CMDG is pleased to provide articles on its website as a service to its clients and visitors.  These articles are not intended as legal advice.  Please be aware that the law differs depending on the circumstances of an individual case and changes over time.