Homeowners advised to check insurance policies during early fire season

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BUTTE, Mont. — As evacuations remain in place, 55 homeowners in Wise River are wondering if they have anything to come back to.

For many, fear is in the unknown.

An early fire season means calls are coming in from around the state from homeowners concerned about insurance.

“An example might be, your house costs $500,000 to rebuild or $300,000 to rebuild, and you’ve only got half of that replacement cost covered,” explained Montana State Auditor Troy Downing. “Then you have a flood. You’ve got $50,000 of damage. The insurance company may only pay $25,000 of that because you were not adequately insured for a replacement cost to your home.”

Part of this comes from the increased cost of materials.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a stunning increase in the price of lumber. Up 89.7% in April of this year compared to last.

It is the largest increase ever recorded.

“That is a big problem,” said Downing. “Two things are happening in Montana right now — we’re seeing property values in general skyrocket… but the other part is, material costs and construction costs. I can’t remember the last time we’ve seen such inflation in the cost of actually building.”

That’s why experts are encouraging proper coverage by checking with your insurance agents.

“Seeing if you have the appropriate coverage, and then again making sure that you have the records that you would need in case of a loss,” explained Downing.

Especially with an early fire season that’s expected to continue.

“We don’t see any expectation of that changing significantly anytime in the near future but when you start to see that kind of pressure, that should be another signal just doing a sanity check,” said Downing.

For many people across Montana, homes aren’t the only thing they’re worried about this fire season. They’re also concerned about insuring their livestock.

“That’s actually our main point of business here in Montana is farm insurance,” explained Mike Gage, agent for American National. “Farming ranches and anything that’s equine related.”

Fires are impacting ranches — that means a scramble to round up and move out livestock.

It’s not easy.

In severe cases, it’s impossible.

“I know people that have turned loose their animals that are in a fire, and just said, you know we’ll find them when we get back, and if they’re still alive, great,” said Gage.

As a horse owner himself, Gage noted that it’s never an easy decision but sometimes necessary.

But fire is unpredictable.

That’s why it’s important to be prepared for worst-case scenarios.

“This time of year, especially with wildfire season, it’s probably a good idea to have mortality insurance on your horses,” noted Gage.

He explained that in order to qualify for mortality insurance or any farm insurance, you must schedule an appointment with the company.

In some cases, vets are also asked to confirm an animal’s good health prior to coverage.

Once approved, individual pricing will be negotiated between the owner and the insurance company.

Downing explained that covering both your home and animals takes time, but it means being ready for any natural disasters that come.

He also noted that if anyone is struggling to get proper coverage or reimbursement costs, they can call the state at 406-444-2040.


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