If you are a wildfire victim then chances are your life is in chaos. This guide will serve as an antidote to that chaos and help you get back on your feet. It includes everything you will need to know, from status updates on fires, to local resources, to the first steps you should take, and how to approach legal matters.
Immediate Steps to Take if You Were a Victim to a Wildfire
According to local first responders, after a wildfire, the absolute priority is to ensure the safety of yourself and other family members. If someone you know cannot be located then the next step is to contact authorities and notify them. Chances are that it will be days or weeks before you’re able to return home. Before doing so, make sure to check with authorities to make sure that it’s safe.
When you go home, you’re going to find catastrophic levels of devastation. Maybe everything you own will be destroyed including your house or your land. Prior to going through this, it’s important to have some kind of safety net set up. Make sure you contact your insurance company or find legal representation to see if you’re eligible for a lawsuit.
Most people believe that a lawsuit might be a waste of time, but the truth is that utility companies such as PG&E are being held liable for their negligence. There may be someone responsible for the fire that destroyed your life, knowing who they are and knowing if you have a legal case will give you direction, emotional support and the financial support you will need.
Even if you do not have insurance, you may still have a case. You’ll need to contact legal and insurance companies when you get home anyways so it’s better to do it in advance.
Legal Steps to Take in the Event of a Wildfire
Despite the devastation, the legal steps to take in the event of a wildfire are simple:
- Do not touch or attempt to repair any of the damage that has been done until the next steps are completed.
- Contact your insurance company – they’ll provide you with further instructions on what to do. They will send an inspector to assess the damage and help you financially with the recovery process. If you touch or attempt to repair any of the fire damages, then you could potentially be jeopardizing your insurance money.
- Contact wildfire, personal injury, property damage, or wrongful death attorneys. At the moment, the wildfire lawyers are Wagner and Jones are offering free consultations to wildfire victims even if they do not have insurance.
Returning Home After a Wildfire
Personal Safety When Returning Home After a Wildfire – Click Here to View – Prior to returning home, make sure you’re equipped with a face mask and bottles of spraying water. The mask will help protect your lungs from deadly particles still floating in the air and the water can be sprayed to reduce the amount of particles that get kicked up into the air.
Inspecting Your Home After A Fire Checklist – Click Here to View – According to readyforwildfire.org, when you come home, check for embers in smoldering clumps on the ground, roofs, and exteriors.
Assess the electric damage done to your house, if all wiring has incinerated or if the circuit breaker has been damaged, do not attempt to turn on any appliance. Once that’s done, you can begin to inspect the nearby areas for damages done to the surround area such as:
- Weak utility poles
- Weakened trees
- Scattered Debris
- Hidden embers (such as in gutters and crawl spaces)
Once you have a full damage report, contact authorities and let them know. DO NOT touch anything or try to fix anything as you can jeopardize your insurance claims. Once you have reported the damages to the local authorities, the next step is to get your insurance company involved and to find legal representation.
Lastly, avoid lingering in the area for too long. Wildfires burn paint, plastics, and electronics, all of which emit carcinogenic vapors. Staying in the area for too long can pose a major health risk.
What to Expect After a Wildfire
The best guidance you’ll get for the next steps after a wildfire are from your insurance company and wildfire attorneys. Start by calling both of them.
Since you have limited resources, it’s advised to seek help from your friends, family, and utilize the local resources your town has to offer. Later in this guide, we will cover the resources by location.
The PG&E Camp Fire of 2018 – Summary
On November 8th, 2018, a small fire erupted from a PG&E transmission line. First responders arrived on the scene with air support a short 30 minutes later only to learn that the small fire had already grown into a blazing inferno.
Combined with howling winds, the fire spread uncontrollably. First responders were faced with a tough decision: try to control a wildly growing fire, or save the citizens of nearby towns. The evacuations began.
Within hours, the wildfire dubbed “camp fire” by northern California fire lawyers was already engulfing nearby towns. First responders struggled to evacuate entire populations in such a short notice. Due to failures in the evacuation plans, entire districts were forgotten.
After a harrowing 2 weeks of first responders trying to contain the fire, the accumulated devastation was clear: Over 800 missing people, over 80 confirmed dead, over 18,000 buildings destroyed, and over 160,000 acres of land scorched. It was the worst wildfire in California history.
PG&E Lawsuit – Is PG&E Responsible for the Camp Fire
At first, many people thought that PG&E would get away from the Camp Fire lawsuits through declaring bankruptcy. However, this is not the case. Overwhelming evidence is stacking up against PG&E and a bankruptcy will not free them from the Camp Fire lawsuits.
Some of the publicly disclosed evidence includes:
- Several witnesses state that the fire started on PG&E transmission lines.
- A failed electrical safety inspection report which showed the power lines behaving erratically on the morning of the fire.
- PG&E employees calling in to report the fire.
- Several customer e-mails complaining about sparking wires outside of their home.
- PG&E neglecting to shut the power off despite the massive fire.
Anyone who is a victim to the PG&E lawsuits should seek immediate legal representation as there is a 2 year deadline to file a case. The lawyers at Wagner, Jones, Kopfman & Artenian are already helping multiple wildfire victims in Butte County and can help you too.
What the PG&E Bankruptcy Could Mean for Butte County Camp Fire Victims
The PG&E Bankruptcy is being used to help PG&E bide their time so that they can survive the wave of lawsuits. If you have been a victim then do not hesitate on seeking legal remediation that you deserve. Do not be scared by PG&E’s bankruptcy claim, even if you do not have insurance, contact legal representation from expert wildfire lawyers.
How to File a Claim Against PG&E For Wildfire “Camp Fire”
Before filing a claim against PG&E it’s important to seek legal representation. The attorneys at Wagner and Jones will offer you a free consultation even if you have no insurance.
Camp Fire Butte County With Map
The Camp Fire in Butte county encompasses several towns including Paradise and Chico. Official reports are stating that of Nov 25th, 86 bodies were recovered and over 800 people are still missing. An area greater than the size of Chicago was damaged with over 160,000 acres scorched, and 18,793 buildings burned to the ground. Out of all those buildings burned, 13,696 were single residence homes.
The Camp Fire in Butte county is to date the deadliest fire in California history.
Butte County Camp Fire Property Clean Up
When it comes to property clean up, the priority is always to remove toxic and hazardous waste first. The clean up plans for Paradise, Ca follow this protocol with part 1 involving the experts from the California State Department of Toxic Substances Control and EPA inspecting properties for hazardous waste. This type of waste is defined as anything that threatens human or animal health.
Common hazardous items that are being cleaned up include poisons such as herbicides, propane tanks, asbestos infrastructure, paint and batteries.
This phase is especially crucial because hazardous waste cannot be disposed of normally without causing significant damage to the environment. The EPA is fielding any questions regarding their phase 1 clean up programs at 415-793-8794.
Phase 2 of the clean up consists of clearing debris. To be eligible for this part of the program, you must fill out the right of entry form – found here and submit it to the address on the form. And access to the most frequently asked questions of the clean up can be found on the Butte County Debris Removal Form – Download Here.
Camp Fire Paradise, Ca Update
Camp Fire has left Paradise, Ca in ruins. The official website being used for the recovery efforts is buttecountyrecovers.org. In the next section of this guide, we’ll share the damage reports and resources available to the citizens of Paradise.
Temporary Housing in Paradise
As of February 4th, temporary housing structures such as RVs and trailers are being allowing on qualifying properties that were damaged by Camp Fire. In order to qualify, the parcel of land must be certified as clean.
The CMA church (address 6491 Clark Road, Paradise CA) is offering temporary RV parking. Hook ups are not available but will be provided through a water hauler. You are still responsible for paying for propane, gas, and water pumping. To reserve your spot, call 530-538-7572.
Paradise Recovery Centers
Local hubs have been created to help the citizens of Paradise recover from camp fire. Government agencies have centralized around these centers to help you get back on your feet. For a list of their locations, contact information and which agencies are where, visit: https://buttecountyrecovers.org/DRC
How Chico Has Been Affected by Camp Fire
The crisis in Chico, Ca is different from the ones suffered by Paradise, Concow, Magalia, Centerville and Helltown. People evacuating have been forced to flee to Chicago and as the mayor describes it, Chico is now a “clogged toilet equivalent of a town”. The mayor sadly admits that the towns infrastructure was not built to handle the massive wave of refugees and laments that the town is 100% fully occupied.
The town’s economy is in chaos as both crimes and accidents are on the rise. The sad truth is that due to capacity, Chico is not a viable place for refugees to go.
Butte County Camp Fire Compared With Other Fires
2017 and 2018 were wild years for California. After finally escaping their multi-year long drought, California became plagued with the worst wildfires in its history. Each fire being more destructive than the rest.
Mendocino Complex Wildfire – The largest fire in 2018 happened on July 27th and burned an estimated 459,123 acres and became known as the Mendocino Complex fire. Although the fire was extremely large, it was in more remote areas and so did not deal nearly as much human and monetary damage as the Butte County Camp Fire.
Carr Fire – The Carr fire happened shortly before the Mendocino fire on July 23rd. At the time, it was the most destructive fire of 2018 razing over 1700 buildings and killing 8 civilians.
Woolsey Fire – The Woolsey fire happened at the same time as the Paradise Camp Fire. This fire rampaged all the way in Ventura county and made its way to Malibu where properties averaged a net value of $3,000,000.
The Woolsey fire destroyed 1,643 buildings and fortunately, did not kill anyone.
Camp Fire’s destructive nature was far more aggressive than any of the other major fires. At it peaks, according to RMS, it was growing at a rate of 1 football field per second . To make matters worse, the fire spread to the densely populated area of Paradise, a town notorious for its elder population and limited entrances/exits. These combined factors led Camp Fire to earn its place as the deadliest wildfire in California history. In an effort to help victims, Camp Fire attorneys are going after PG&E for what could be the biggest lawsuit in the utility company’s history.
How Your Insurance Policy Can Help
To understand your insurance policy, you have to understand the basic terminology used by fire insurance companies.
- Your home has “Coverage A”.
- Other structures apart from the house itself has “Coverage B” – this includes pools, water ways, fencing, guest houses and separate garages.
- Your personal property is protected by “Coverage C”. This includes your furniture, clothing and your supplies.
- “Coverage D” is for investment properties and is used to cover lost rental incomes while repairs are happening.
Once you understand these terms then you should be able to get started reading and understanding your homeowners insurance policy.
The 3 Most Common Types of Insurance Policies Against Wildfires
Chances are that your insurance policy falls under the category of a “replacement cost policy”. In short, this means that your policy will cover the costs of rebuilding or replacing your property. Within the replacement cost policy segment, there are 3 common types of insurance.
- Cash Value Replacement – This policy is limited to the terms outlined in your contract.
- Extended Replacement Cost – This policy is limited to the agreed amount in the policy limits but comes with an additional increase.
- Guaranteed Replacement Cost – This policy has no limits.
What To Do If You’re Under-insured
Under California insurance code, your insurance company need to notify you of any reduction in your coverage . If your coverage was lowered and you were not notified, then contact the legal experts at Wagner and Jones because you may have a case against the insurance company.
If they had notified you or if your policy had shortcomings from the beginning, then you should be asking who sold you the policy and who picked the terms on it.
Recovering From a Wildfire – How to Recover Your Home
Look For Government Resources to Help With Wildfire Recovery Efforts
If you’ve gone through the steps above of contacting your insurance company and then seeking legal representation, the next step is to check for available government resources.
In California, for the most recent wildfires such as the Butte county Camp Fire, you can use the following links for federal resources:
Federal Emergency Management Agency Website – FEMA Home Page
California Department of Social Services – Disaster Services Bureau
Contact a Well Reviewed Contractor for Permit and Zoning Restrictions
Before rebuilding your home, contact a well-reviewed contractor to see if there are any permit or zoning requirements. Chances are that you’ll need at least a few permits before building so make sure that whatever contractor you chose to work with has them.
Continue To Pay Your Mortgage and Taxes
Even if your home is completely destroyed, you still have to continue to pay your mortgage and taxes on time. However, you can seek relief. Call your mortgage company and explain to them the situation so that you can get mortgage relief. If over $10,000 in damages are recorded, file an assessment reduction application in your local town to reduce property taxes.