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Francine Di Palma
Francine Di Palma
Senior Sales Associate

Berkeley Pacific Union
1625 Shattuck Ave.,
Berkeley, CA 94709
Francine Di Palma, CRS
Direct Line: 510-982-4421
Cell: 510-541-2427

Lessons From the Fire

Most people believe that catastrophes will never happen to them. The Berkeley-Oakland hills fire shows this to be untrue. Clearly there are some things we should all consider. (While I wrote this article after the 1991 fire, it is still relevant for all potential disasters, e.g. earthquakes, which are a part of our life.)

What Should Be Saved
  What will we save if an immediate evacuation of our homes becomes necessary? There is no time to determine whether family photos are more important than insurance policies when a fire is approaching by leaps and bounds. Where are the passports and the prescriptions for required medicines? Each family needs to make its own decisions. What is important is to make them before a catastrophe occurs and to keep those significant items together in one place where they can be rescued in a limited time.

What Information Will Be Needed?
  Many fire victims reported that after the destruction of their homes they did not have the name and phone number of their insurance agent, much less a copy of their policy. The lesson here is to make a list of important names and phone numbers, copies of insurance policies, wills and other significant papers, and keep them in a place other than one's home.
What is the likelihood you could provide a complete list of personal property? One way to document one's possessions is to videotape the contents of each room, including items in drawers, while commenting on those items that are valuable. Be sure to store the videotape some place other than at home! Home safes were of very little help when the heat of the fire became so intense that the contents of the safe were destroyed with the safe itself.

   Our greatest concern will be the well-being of family members and where they are after separation. Prior to any crisis, there should be an agreement among the family as to where to go or at least what number to call to leave a message for the others. The anxiety level of out-of-town friends and relatives can be reduced by making one call to a designated contact and asking that person to call others on a provided list. Designate an assembly point for the family far enough from one's home that it may not be involved in the same catastrophe.
Anxiety over lost pets has been frequently reported in fire losses. Identity tags on collars can be important in helping to reunite pets with their owners.

Safety First
  Large trees and/or brush which are in the immediate vicinity of one's home add significantly to the possibility of fire damage both to that home and to others close by. The drought years have created an even greater fire risk as much of the foliage is very dry. In the October fire, the tallest trees, including eucalyptus, pine and redwood, contributed to the spread of the fire by putting firebrands up into the wind thereby igniting other foliage and houses. Trees should be trimmed yearly of dead wood and branches should not hang over a roof or touch a house.
The type of roof on one's home can be another fire hazard. Shakes and shingles are vulnerable to fire. (Some communities are considering legislation to prevent such roofs on new construction and roof replacements.)
Escape routes are another factor to consider since fire may cut off routes that are normally used. All family members should be familiar with alternate escape routes.

Insurance Coverage
   Insurance policies vary widely as to coverage, floaters, riders and exclusions. Know precisely what your policy covers. Inadequate coverage is one of the most frequent complaints heard from fire victims. It is essential to know the difference between "Replacement Cost Coverage" and "Guaranteed Replacement Cost Coverage." The former limits one to the cost of rebuilding or to the dollar limit established in the Declarations, whichever is lower. The latter entitles the policy holder to the cost of rebuilding or the policy limit, whichever is higher, although full replacement cost will not be allowed unless one rebuilds.
(For detailed differences relating to your particular policy, check with your insurance agent.)

If you have any questions about the above article please contact me at: or 510-982-4421

Francine Di Palma
Direct Line: 510-982-4421

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