From State Auditor Matt Rosendale:
Here is some important insurance information about wildfires and what to do if you are forced to evacuate, if your property is damaged due to fire, smoke, or fire retardant, and steps you should take before your property is threatened by new or growing fires:
Many people might not be aware that their insurance policies often cover losses indirectly caused by wildfires, such as damage from smoke or fire retardant. Montanans should consult with their insurance agents if they’ve been affected by fires this year, and always feel free to contact our office with any insurance problems.
And remember, if you are forced to evacuate, living expenses are often covered if you keep track of your expenses and receipts.
Policyholders generally understand if their property burns down or is damaged by fire that their insurance company pays for damages. However, many insurance policies provide additional protection and coverage for damage and losses indirectly caused by wildfires. Insurance professionals can guide Montanans through this process.
In addition to creating health risks, smoke can damage properties even if the fire never directly threatens the home or other property. Damage from smoke is a covered peril in insurance contracts.
If property owners are subject to a mandatory civil evacuation order, many insurance policies provide extra living expense coverage up to two weeks. If this coverage is available, it helps defray costs during an incredibly stressful time.
If a property owner incurs damage from fire retardant, many companies will pay for the cost to remove the retardant and restore the structure to pre-loss condition.
It is also important to note that certain property damage is not covered, or may be limited. Damage to trees, landscapes and fencing are examples where insurance protection may only apply with capped dollar amounts.
For Montanans who are at risk of wildfires, a checklist is available on our website to take inventory of possessions that could be damaged or lost during a fire. Paper inventories should be stored in a fireproof safe, and I recommend keeping a digital backup in the cloud in case physical records are destroyed. Keeping an inventory of assets will make the process of accounting for potential fire losses faster and easier.
After a fire, Montanans should take photos of all damage before it is cleaned up. If you are evacuated, save all receipts of hotel stays and other costs associated with evacuation, as some of those costs may be covered by insurance if documented with receipts.
Montanans not currently threatened by a wildfire should take steps ahead of time to know their insurance policy and make sure their property—including outbuildings, shops, barns, etc.—are covered. Insurance companies will not sell a new policy for a property that is at an imminent risk of being destroyed.
Montanans who experience losses from wildfire and have questions about their insurance policy or an issue with their insurance company should contact our office at (406) 444-2040 or at csimt.gov.
Wildfire protection resources are readily available. The CSI website provides information for consumers affected by wildfire here: http://csimt.gov/your-insurance/fire/
Not all insurance contracts are the same and the protections under a policy can vary greatly. It is important that policyholders check with their insurance agents or insurance company to verify the protection available under their insurance policy.