Damp fire evacuees get ready for insurance claims

CALISTOGA, Calif (KTVU) -- On Wednesday, after the 5th straight firestorm ravaged the Lake County region, rains fell on the tent city they set up over the weekend at the Napa County Fairgrounds in Calistoga.

Nonetheless, the rain put no damper in the hearts of those who've lost so much, though the rains turned the roads to mud and the grass to slick surfaces.           

KTVU heard no complaints.

"Thank God. I mean it's hard out here but we need it, especially with people still fighting the fire and we need this rain," said evacuee Renada Breeden.

"The kids, you know, we've talked to them all about like, you know, don't get in the tent wet because we're gonna have to sleep there tonight," quipped evacuee Patrice Conklin.

"Another thing to bear; and after the fire, the rain is very welcome," said evacuee Jackie Felber. 

Also welcome was Perriwinkle the Clown, a balloon artist who came out of the goodness of his heart before going to an appearance in Benicia tomorrow.

"The kids needed cheering up and I'm on the road and it seemed like the right thing to do,  I've been here for three days just making balloons, maybe over 500 balloons and the kids loved it," said Perriwinkle.

The seemingly endless support the Calistogans had for their neighbors who came from the other side of the mountain was also making things more bearable.

"We were figuring that we were gonna have to deal with weather. It's supposedly gonna stop around 11 tonight. But again, the people rolled in with every single thing that we needed; with tarps. We're OK," said  Conklin.

"Everything has been so amazing with this town and these people that I'm just proud to be a survivor and actually say I lived through this event. I see God working in all of this," said Felber.

The evacuees are taking pretty much everything in stride 

But next will come the hard part: rebuilding. With many evacuees likely to be leaving here in the next few days, those who had homeowners insurance will have a much easier time of it. Those that didn't have insurance will have to wait for Small Business Administration loans and whatever grants may be available.

The first insurance companies set up claims centers Sunday morning and now represent a who's who of property insurers. Felber told KTVU her home was spared, but she loss all of her outbuildings and a nearby rental house.  

"Our tenants are here too. We're all in this together. Their home, our rental property," said Felber. "It's been very simple and they're been very helpful and kind. That's one thing off the checklist that we're gonna have to do and I'm really grateful for. That even if you have a home standing, there's no electricity, there's no water. Our pump houses are gone, so if we have, water we have nothing to pump it with."

Sevag Sarkissian, a State Farm spokesman said most homeowner policies provide for alternative living arrangements until a surviving house is ready or a destroyed one is rebuilt.

"That's a policy benefit that may last for the duration of their claim until they get back in their home.  It's typically 24 months," said Sarkissian. "If you're staying in a hotel, if you have to be eating out, if there are additional personal items that you have to purchase associated with the evacuation. Those of the types of things that that policy benefit wilt assist with."

Though the big things will be covered, the most common problem is the lack of a complete home inventory to show the true extent of your losses; things you'll never remember or forgot you ever had.

That inventory should be kept away from your home with a distant relative, friend or safe deposit box or a remote internet location. Bottom line: get you smart phone or a camera and make very, very sure that you photograph everything in your house; every drawer, every cupboard, everything. That makes sure you're paid the maximum that you've been insured for.

"Digital records are excellent, especially if you can upload them to the cloud," said Sarkissian. Make sure you have special coverage for things like computers, art and jewelry as they are not generally a part of basic coverages.

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