How ready are you for a wildfire? | SummitDaily.com
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How ready are you for a wildfire?

by Jane Stebbins

SUMMIT COUNTY – Are you ready?

Maggie Lifland isn’t – but with wildfires raging throughout the state, she’s given some thought to what she would do if one breaks out here.

“We’ve been pondering what we would do,” Lifland said, adding that events came up and prevented her family from having the discussion earlier. But, she said, it’s on the agenda for a family discussion this week.

She’s not unlike many other homeowners in Summit County, who have considered the possibility of fire striking the High Country – and may even have made a list of things they would bring if the valley were being evacuated.

Lifland, owner of Arrow Insurance in Breckenridge and Frisco, said her offices have been deluged with people checking up on their insurance policies. The phones have been ringing at State Farm in Dillon, as well, as mostly second-home owners call to ensure they have enough coverage.

“The proper amount of building coverage is going for $170 to $300 a square foot, depending on how the house is finished,” said George Osborne II of State Farm Insurance in Dillon. “We don’t insure anything for less than $150 a square foot in Summit County. A burned-down house, too, is easier to replace than building a new house. The septic, excavating, power lines, water, sewer, all that’s still there.”

Lifland said homeowners are required by their mortgage companies to carry home insurance, and most of the time it is enough to cover damage – both to the home and personal effects – from a fire. Unlike floods, homes burned by fire – as long as they aren’t torched by their owners – are covered under most insurance policies.

Most policies also have an inflation index built in them so customers don’t have to update their coverage every year. But it’s based on Denver’s Consumer Price Index – the rate of inflation – and resort communities’ rates of inflation often are higher, Osborne said.

Insurance companies also are notifying agents about limitations on what can be insured and where. For instance, Lifland said, a homeowner without insurance probably would not be able to reasonably expect to obtain insurance or increase their coverage if their home is in imminent danger of being burned.

Renters, on the other hand, often don’t have insurance to cover their personal possessions, Lifland said.

Lifland and other insurance representatives advise homeowners and renters alike to videotape or photograph everything in their house to help insurance adjusters determine how much money a person is due.

“People up here put more of their assets in their house, so insurance companies often base the amount of the reimbursement of personal effects on a nationwide average.

“They look at target items: sports equipment, TVs, jewelry, firearms, to get an idea,” Osborne said. “Most people don’t have a clue what they have. I don’t know how many wrenches I have in the barn. It’s hard to say how much stuff you have in your house without actually going around and doing an inventory and putting a price on it.”

Osborne, who inventoried and photographed his possessions two years ago, said it still would be difficult to have to recall everything he owns, particularly when under stress. That’s why he recommends everyone make a list of “must brings.”

“Most of what we have to grab is passports, photographs and the cat,” he said.

“If you have no records of what you have, they’ll sit you down and reconstruct and make an offer based on what an average person in a house might have,” Lifland said. “You have to show some evidence that you owned things. If you try to tell them you’ve got six color TVs in your two-bedroom apartment, they might question you.”

If a fire destroys a home, homeowners typically are reimbursed for personal items at “full replacement value,” which means they usually will give a homeowner enough money to replace a 10-year-old couch with a new couch similar to the quality of the old one when it was new.

“We had a family discussion about this,” Lifland said. “We decided to only worry about things you can do something about.”

“I think we’re lucky up here because we haven’t had a major fire, and people are generally pretty aware,” Osborne said. “I think we just need to take care of each other and slap the idiots upside the head. More than anything else, just be aware.”

Jane Stebbins can be reached at 668-3998 ext. 228 or jstebbins@summitdaily.com.


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