Here's What to Do After A Wildfire - Claims and Clean-up

The devastating Woolsey Fire continues to burn in Los Angeles and Ventura counties, charring at least 97,000 acres and destroying at least 453 structures. 

For many homeowners, they may return to a home that's no longer standing, or severely damaged by the fire. While most people carry insurance for exactly this type of scenario, dealing with insurance companies and making sure you get your claims paid can be a nightmare to navigate. 

Fortunately, KFI's House Whisperer, Dean Sharp, @HomeWithDean, has put together a very informative list of things you can do to make the claim process easier for you and your family. 


If you have a mortgage, your lender is a “loss payee” and settlement checks will be written jointly to you and the bank. Your lender will then disperse the funds to you, usually in progress payments, to make sure the house gets rebuilt properly.

You need an advocate! The larger the claim the less you should rely on the insurance company’s assessments. Employ a trusted contractor or a public insurance adjuster.

There are three kinds of insurance adjusters - company adjusters, independent adjusters, and public adjusters. Only a public adjuster works for YOU.

You don’t need a lawyer at first. If you’re concerned about your claim, hire a public adjuster. Only resort to a lawyer if the insurance company is refusing to accept your public adjuster’s evaluation.

You don’t have to hire the insurance company’s recommended contractor. The insurance company is NOT in charge. YOU are. Don’t be rushed. Get a minimum of three estimates from reputable contractors as you would to do any work. Always get recent referrals.


Find a contractor who is not used to working with insurance companies. Contractors who are comfortable to “work directly with your insurance company” get most of their business from insurance companies and thus, are far more likely to do what the insurance company wants, not what you want.

Cleanup and restoration is not a licensed specialty trade. So, contractors with cleanup certification are good, but it’s not a guarantee of expertise. Look for an IICRC Certification (Institute of Inspection Cleaning and Restoration - a 2 day class) but always get at least three estimates from reputable contractors.

Cleanup after a fire is usually an “all or nothing” affair. Either damage was extensive enough to file a claim, in which case professionals will do the cleanup, or there is no significant damage and a homeowner just wants to get the smokiness out of the house.

To get rid of smokiness:

1. Ventilate - Open the windows, turn on the AC, put fans in rooms. Change the furnace          filter daily until it shows no sign of soot.

2. Wash walls, ceilings and all hard surfaces. Good choices are dish soap, Trisodium Phosphate (TSP), and vinegar.

3. Get carpets, drapes and upholstry professionally cleaned.

4. Wash windows using professional techniques - detergent applicator, wetting detergent, squeegee, terry cloth towel.

Together, we can make it through this very difficult time as people continue to deal with the raging wildfires in California. 

Photo: Getty Images

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