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Can You Buy Home Insurance After a Wildfire Starts?

Nov. 14, 2016
Homeowners Insurance, Insurance

When your property is in the path of a wildfire, the importance of making sure you have enough insurance will hit home. But by then, it might be too late.

If your home is under imminent threat from a wildfire, insurance companies will put temporary restrictions on expanding or purchasing coverage, says Carole Walker, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association, an industry group. In the same way that you can’t buy additional insurance when your kitchen is on fire, you can’t buy more insurance when a wildfire is at your door.

Home insurance buying restrictions

Restrictions on buying home insurance when a wildfire is approaching vary by company, Walker says.

Once a wildfire starts, you won’t be able to buy or increase insurance if your home is within a certain proximity, such as 15 miles, of the fire. You also won’t be able to request a lower deductible, which is the amount you pay out of pocket for rebuilding or repairs. These restrictions will end after the area is out of imminent danger.

“That’s why it is so important to do an annual insurance checkup and alert your insurer when you do any remodeling or additions to your home,” Walker says.

Beefing up home insurance

Many homeowners don’t have enough insurance to cover the full cost of rebuilding after a wildfire or other disaster. United Policyholders, a consumer advocacy group, conducts surveys of residents whose properties were damaged or destroyed by wildfires. The surveys consistently show that large portions of people were underinsured.

Consider the aftermath of the Valley fire in 2015, which destroyed almost 1,300 homes and 27 apartment buildings in Lake County, California. According to a United Policyholders survey of people living in the area affected by the wildfire:

  • 53% of respondents reported they did not have enough insurance to repair or rebuild their homes, by an average of $103,000.
  • 64% said they did not have enough insurance to cover belongings, by an average of $87,600.

Review your home insurance

Review your home insurance policy and call your agent or company to update coverage if necessary. The amount should be enough to rebuild your home. If you’ve remodeled and expanded the house since you purchased insurance, you’ll need to increase the coverage to reflect those changes. Otherwise there won’t be enough insurance to pay for the home improvements you worked so hard to make.