Tis the Season for Home Fires

by Mark Goldwich

Although we’re thankfully past hurricane season, and once again, we (especially those of us in Florida and other hurricane prone regions of the U.S.) have again fared better than predicted. We had a close call or two, but no hits to the State. Still, we can not afford to let our guard down. 

Image courtesy of eletunk.com
As temperatures drop, a new disaster season begins – that of home fires.  Whether from space heaters, fireplaces, holiday candles, Christmas tree lights, cooking accidents, or a variety of other sources, the end of hurricane season on November 30 each year seems to mark the beginning of home fire season. 

I’ve talked about home fires before, but with incidents involving home fires on the rise, it’s worth pointing out a few important items to reinforce some key concepts.

Just as you did for hurricane season, make sure you have a plan for fire season.  Have a plan for detecting fires (replacing batteries), putting out fires (fire extinguishers), escape routes, alternative meeting locations, calling assignments, disaster kits (for people and animals), temporary living, disaster cash, and of course, plans for documenting your claim to your insurance company (this begins with having insurance to begin with, and keeping your insurance up-to-date based on your changing needs.

Image courtesy of backalleytaxes.com
Did you know that it’s your responsibility to prove to the insurance company what you owned when your home burns to the ground?  You may pay for $100,000 (or much more) in personal property coverage, but you may only receive payment for what you can both remember and prove that you owned. 

I once had a client that lost well over $100,000 worth of belongings when her 2-story home of over 40 years burned to the ground. Tragically, her husband perished in the fire. Would you believe her “top-notch” insurance company would only pay her for about $40,000 in property because that is all she could remember in her traumatized state of mind?

This is why I highly recommend you consider photographing, filming and listing all your possessions, or at least your most valuable ones, and keep copies (with receipts, owners manuals, and appraisals) in more than one location and/or in a fire and waterproof safe.

A fire at this time of year can really ruin your holidays, and let’s face it, no matter how well you plan for the disaster, or how well you can handle the insurance claim, your holidays will be forever marred by the fire. Your home will not be rebuilt in time to host family, and you may not be able to purchase all the gifts you would like to for the family, but surviving the fire is step 1, and dealing with the aftermath is step 2. Rather than dwell on what was lost, make the best of what you have, and look forward to what can once again be possible.
Image courtesy of flickr.com

I have a family I am working with right now, that suffered a fire very early in the season. It seems an
electrical fire began without warning in the garage, and quickly spread to the rest of the home. The home, and most of the contents, were badly damaged. This family will be without their home for the holidays, but they found a similar rental home just a few blocks away, and this is covered by most insurance policies (don’t let them stick you in a cheap hotel for an extended period of time).

And while they got out of the home safely, they escaped with little more than the clothes on their backs. Fortunately in this case, the insurance company gave them an advance on their claim for personal property, so they can buy needed clothing and other essentials without having to overextend themselves on credit cards. If you ever found yourself in a similar situation, and your insurance company refused to give you such an advance, I would take that as a bad sign of things to come. You should ask for an explanation in writing, and consider complaining to a higher level of management at the insurance company, if not the Department of Insurance in your State. You should also consider getting professional assistance on your claim.

What did happen in this case, once I was hired, was the insurance company immediately called the insured, questioned them for hiring me, and told them to check their agreement with me as they may still be able to cancel that agreement (in Florida, insureds have 3 days to cancel a Public Adjuster agreement). While highly unethical, it is not uncommon for insurance company representatives to try to prevent insureds from getting profession help (care to guess why?).

The other thing they did immediately upon notice of my representation, was agree the home was a total loss, so I would not be entitled to any fee based on that payment, which was fine with me. I was confident there would be other ways for me to assist the insured.

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Remember, not all disasters come with names and media coverage – or warning – like hurricanes do.  The best time to be prepared is always…now! Also keep in mind you have rights, as well as responsibilities, that come with your insurance policy. If you are ever unsure of what those rights might be, all you have to do is ask. You can start by asking the insurance company, but if questions remain, I highly recommend you ask a true advocate, not someone hired by the insurance company to protect their interests.

Fires and other disasters can really put a damper on your holiday plans, but they don’t have to ruin your life.

Mark Goldwich is president of Gold Star Adjusters, a group of public insurance adjusters dedicated to helping citizens get the maximum settlement for any insurance claim.  


  1. Holiday fires are the worst. Homeowners should also turn off the water main when they travel. Water damage can be almost as catastrophic as fire.

  2. "The best time to be prepared is always…now! Also keep in mind you have rights, as well as responsibilities, that come with your insurance policy. If you are ever unsure of what those rights might be, all you have to do is ask."
    That's good to know!

  3. I've never thought of this.... I will now make sure and take pictures and have ALL detail possible in my fire safe. Great comment about turning off the water main.... Thanks for sharing!

  4. I like to have my fireplace and chimney inspected and cleaned at least every other year. Happy holiday's and a merry Christmas to all! ;D