Consumer Advisory: A dry winter means high fire danger

Division of Insurance cautions Coloradans on how to prepare for wildfire season.

DENVER (April 3, 2018) – Dry, yellow grass. Trees and bushes dehydrated and brittle. All of it potential tinder for a wildfire.

You’ve probably noticed it’s been a dry winter throughout much of Colorado. That will translate into an increased danger of wildfires around the state, which means more Colorado homes could be threatened.

With fires, most people think of their homeowners insurance. While insurance is there to provide financial security for your family, fire prevention and the prevention of damage to your home should be your top priority. And that prevention is mitigation.

“As wildfires are more common in Colorado, almost all insurance companies are requiring homeowners who live in wildfire areas to mitigate the fire hazards on their property,” said Bobbie Baca, Director of Consumer Services for Property and Casualty Insurance for the Division of Insurance. “It’s a proven method for reducing the risk to these homes.”

“With state fire officials warning that Colorado is experiencing its third driest winter on record — after 2002 and 2012, both devastating wildfire seasons — NOW is the time to take steps to protect your property and finances against fire risk,” warns Carole Walker, Executive Director of the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association. “Being insurance ready includes talking to your insurance professional about what your insurance covers and what mitigation is needed on your home.”

The Division of Insurance wants homeowners living in areas prone to wildfires to contact their local office of the Colorado State Forest Service. The local office can provide wildfire mitigation information particular to the area, and, if necessary, connect people to their local fire department. Find a list of the Forest Service local offices at their website - csfs.colostate.edu/areas.

Many Coloradans may not need special insurance for wildfires because this type of disaster is covered under the fire damage provisions of a basic homeowners policy. However, a common complaint after a disaster like a wildfire is that people didn’t have the right kind of insurance or enough of it. The insurance coverage you need depends upon many factors, including the type of home or building you own, its contents, and whether you have a home-based business.

“It’s critical that you understand your current homeowners policy and that it is up-to-date and is the appropriate coverage for your home,” said Tracy Garceau, lead analyst for the property and casualty section of the Division’s Consumer Services section. “If you have coverage that provides replacement costs, you’ll want to make sure that it actually covers the costs of rebuilding. Homeowners may want to consider purchasing extended replacement cost and/or ordinance and law coverage, which protect people in situations where the cost to rebuild exceeds replacement cost coverage. Ultimately, you’ll want to contact your agent or company to review and ask questions about your policy.”

"People should also be aware of the additional living expenses - or A.L.E.- provided in their policies,” added Garceau. “Companies typically include 12 months of A.L.E. in their policies, but people have the option to purchase 24 months of coverage. If your home is damaged and uninhabitable, A.L.E. pays those expenses which are over and above your normal costs. For example, you would continue to pay your mortgage, but the company would pay to rent a similar home while you were displaced."

Below is a list of mitigation tips you can take in preparation for the dry summer months ahead, as well as information on what to know about your homeowners insurance policy.

Mitigation

  • Use fire-resistant materials in the structure of your home, especially the roof, which is most vulnerable.
  • Clear a safety zone around your home and remove trees, leaves, brush and pine needles. Create a zone of at least 100 feet, but know that 200 – 500 feet is often recommended.  Also remove overhanging tree branches near your home.
  • Be sure propane or fuel tanks are at least 30 feet away from all structures.
  • Keep the smoke detectors and fire extinguishers inside your home working properly.
  • If you do not have access to a community water system or water hydrant, get a water storage tank. Make sure your garden hoses reach all areas of the property, and keep them visible and in accessible areas.
  • Be sure your entrance road is accessible. Inaccessible roads can prevent fire-fighting equipment from reaching your home quickly. The street address should be easily visible from the entrance to the property so emergency responders are not delayed.

Reviewing your policy and creating a home inventory.

  • Understand your policy type - Actual cash value (ACV) policies cover only what the property is worth at the time it is damaged, minus the deductible.  Replacement cost policies initially pay the ACV, minus the deductible, but once the property is replaced, will also pay the difference between the actual cash value and the replacement cost.  Your policy should also take into account the cost of cleanup, especially after a wildfire.
  • Coverage limits need to keep up - Review your policy and coverage limits annually to make sure it keeps pace with construction costs.
  • Update - Keep your insurance agent or company updated on any changes to your home that will impact the coverage.
  • Home inventory - You need a home inventory, as only an owner knows what’s been lost as a result of a fire, theft or other damages.  The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC), offers a home inventory app – MyHome Scr.APP.book.  It helps in identifying losses after a disaster, and can also help you determine how much homeowners insurance you need.  The app is available from iTunes and Android.   You can also use a downloadable paper inventory to get started.    

If you still have questions about your insurance, the Division of Insurance has experts to help.  Contact us at 303-894-7490 / 1-800-930-3745 (outside of the Denver metro area) / DORA_insurance@state.co.us.  For more information, visit AskDORA.colorado.gov.

Additional resources

###

The Colorado Division of Insurance (DOI), part of the Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA) regulates the insurance industry and assists consumers and other stakeholders with insurance issues.  Visit dora.colorado.gov/insurance for more information or call 303-894-7499 / toll free 800-930-3745

DORA is dedicated to preserving the integrity of the marketplace and is committed to promoting a fair and competitive business environment in Colorado. Consumer protection is our mission. Visit dora.colorado.gov for more information or call 303-894-7855 / toll free 1-800-886-7675


Media Contact:
Vincent Plymell
Division of Insurance
vincent.plymell@state.co.us 
p: 303-894-2261 | c: 303-910-9614