Fire victims and insurance benefits

Fire victims in the Oakhurst area where a fast-moving wildfire has already destroyed 33 homes and businesses and forced many residents in Bass Lake Heights to evacuate may have insurance benefits to help them with the additional expenses associated with evacuation and recovery.

“Helping residents recover and get their lives back on track is so important after a disaster,” said Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones. “Homeowners should know their insurance policy may cover additional living expenses associated with mandatory evacuation and recovery and should contact their insurer for assistance.”

Many homeowner insurance policies cover additional living expenses during natural disasters. This permits homeowners to maintain their standard of living by covering increased living expenses incurred as a result of damage caused by the fire or mandatory evacuation.

The coverage typically includes food and housing costs, furniture rental, relocation and storage, and extra transportation expenses. Policy provisions, including deductibles, vary by company. Consumers should check with their insurer regarding any limitations that may apply to the coverage.

Commissioner Jones also reminds consumers that in the wake of a natural disaster, such as fire, scammers and unscrupulous public adjuster, vendors and contractors prey on vulnerable disaster victims.

“Unfortunately, disasters bring out the worst in some people,” said Jones. “It is a felony for a public adjuster to solicit business from a homeowner within seven days of a declared disaster or event where 25 or more homes are damaged and destroyed. I have a skilled enforcement team focused on tracking down and arresting rip-off artists that take advantage of homeowners that have already suffered so much.”

Teams of detectives from the Department of Insurance Enforcement Branch, along with State Contractors License Board investigators will be Oakhurst neighborhoods damaged by the Courtney fire on Friday, Sept. 19, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., to educate homeowners about potential scam artists and unscrupulous vendors and contractors who prey on vulnerable disaster victims. The exact location is still being determined.

Enforcement teams are also looking for public adjusters, contractors and vendors who violate laws in place to protect consumers after a disaster. It is common to see scammers and rip-off artists targeting vulnerable homeowners while fires are still burning.

Public adjusters are prohibited from soliciting business from fire victims for seven days following the disaster — it is felony violation. All contractors must be licensed, regardless of the size of the job, following a disaster.

If residents suspect they have been approached or targeted by a scam artist or need assistance with their insurance claim, contact the department’s consumer services team toll-free at 800-927-4357.