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Help available for those who lost homes to fires

Jim Phillips knows he won’t get enough money from his insurance policy to cover the cost of rebuilding his manufactured home in the Medford Estates park that almost was completely destroyed by the Almeda fire.

He paid $480 a year for insurance to cover the value of his home, but didn’t have enough money to pay for a policy covering its full replacement value.

“I’m a senior citizen living on a limited income. The added cost becomes significant,” he said.

Phillips, 75, is retired from a career with the Social Security Administration. He’s now staying at Inn of the Commons in Medford, unsure of his future.

Phillips is among the thousands of Rogue Valley residents who lost their homes this month.

They’re starting the long process of getting aid, finding more permanent housing, settling insurance claims and rebuilding their homes.

The wind-driven Almeda fire that started Sept. 8 in Ashland and raced through Talent and Phoenix destroyed at least 2,800 structures — including homes and businesses — according to a Friday update as the count continued.

The South Obenchain fire still burning in northern Jackson County had claimed at least 153 structures.

Government agencies, local businesses, nonprofit organizations and individuals are offering financial help and advice.

FEMA assistance

With wildfires of unprecedented destruction burning across Oregon, President Donald Trump issued a Presidential Disaster Declaration, triggering help from FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“Oregon is resilient, but to fight fires on this scale, we need all the help we can get,” Gov. Kate Brown said.

Federal funding is available for Jackson County and other impacted counties.

Assistance includes grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster.

Individuals and business owners who sustained losses can begin applying for assistance by registering online at disasterassistance.gov or by calling 1-800-621-3362 or 1-800-462-7585 TTY.

Affected Oregonians are encouraged to apply as soon as possible.

The wildfires, Brown said, likely have led to the largest loss of property in state history.

People with insurance should use the maximum benefits to which they are entitled.

The FEMA Individual Assistance program provides up to $35,000 per household, including for people who were uninsured or underinsured.

The Jackson County Emergency Operations Center has requested a federal Hazards Incident Management Team to assist in the recovery. The FEMA team will be able to provide guidance on all aspects of the recovery process.

State Rep. Pam Marsh, D-Ashland, who represents southern Jackson County in the Oregon Legislature, is urging people not to sift through the remnants of their homes without guidance.

“Many burn areas are highly toxic. Even ash can contain asbestos and heavy metals,” she said. “If you absolutely must return, wear protective clothing, including boots, heavy clothing, gloves and masks. We need to have strategies in place to assess, collect, treat and dispose of this waste.”

Local officials are creating an inventory of potential sites for FEMA trailers and other forms of temporary housing during the rebuilding process, Marsh said.

Insurance advice

Insurance companies are offering help and advice for people whose homes were destroyed or damaged in the fire.

“The loss for the state of Oregon and for so many of our residents and homeowners is devastating,” said Mark Wilkinson, agency manager for COUNTRY Financial in Medford. “Our team members have been reaching out to clients in the affected areas to assist them through these difficult days, issue immediate checks and help them begin the recovery process. We want them to feel assured we are here to help them through the difficult days and months ahead.”

Wilkinson offered advice for those whose homes have been damaged or destroyed, regardless of which insurance company covers their property.

Contact your local insurance company immediately to start the claims process. Some insurers will cover temporary living expenses and issue customers a check on the spot. Most homeowners insurance policies include a benefit for additional living expenses. This coverage generally includes the extra cost of other living expenses, such as eating out at restaurants or having laundry done, that you would not have incurred had you not had the covered loss.

Once it is safe to return to homes still standing, mitigate further damage and clean up your home. Board up broken windows, cover holes with tarps and take steps to prevent further damage to your property.

Save all receipts from emergency repairs, including receipts for basic items such as tarps or duct tape.

Make an inventory of all damaged property, including vehicles. Include age, model number, date of purchase and current purchase price for each item, if possible.

Take photos of any and all damage and submit them to your claims representative.

If your home is destroyed and you have it insured, you should use the insurance for which you’ve been paying a premium to rebuild. Keep in mind you will need to continue to pay your mortgage even if your home in uninhabitable.

COUNTRY Financial has created a wildfire resource webpage for customers to submit a claim online and find answers to frequently asked questions. Visit https://countryfinancial.com/en/claims-support/wildfires2020.html.

The state of Oregon echoes that advice, and has additional tips.

When you’re able to return safely, make an inventory of your damaged personal items. Take your time. You do not need to list every item at once, but do ask your insurance company how long you have to submit a complete list.

Prepare a list that includes the item, the age, the approximate original cost, and the approximate replacement cost.

Do not dispose of the damaged items until your adjuster can view them. Take photos of the damaged items yourself.

Contact your mortgage company to understand how it manages insurance payments. Checks may be written to both you and the mortgage company as payments are issued.

If your car is damaged by the fire, you will need comprehensive coverage on your auto policy to cover the damage, even if it was parked in a garage. Damage to vehicles is not covered under a homeowners policy.

If your home is not destroyed, remember that insurance can also cover smoke and ash damage to your home and personal property.

After the investigation is completed and the insurance company is ready to settle your claim, it will typically be paid in two steps.

— Step one is for actual cash value. This means the initial payment will be for the value of the damaged property at the time of loss. This is established by depreciating the cost of the repairs and the replacement cost of the damaged personal property. The initial payment will be less than the full amount needed to do the job, but it will help you get repairs started, or begin purchasing replacement property.

— Step two involves the cost to replace a home, which is usually more than the worth of the property when it was destroyed or damaged. Once the repairs are completed, or a new item is purchased, the company will reimburse you the difference between the actual cash value and the full repair or replacement cost. You will have a deductible that applies to the entire loss.

Be sure to talk to your insurance company about your specific policy and how payments will be made.

If you need to be out of your home during the repairs, most policies will cover additional living expenses such as lodging, food and even pet boarding. Talk to your insurance company to understand how the coverage applies.

For more information from the state about filing a wildfire insurance claim, visit dfr.oregon.gov/insure/home/storm/Pages/wildfires.aspx.

PayneWest Insurance notes that even homeowners whose homes suffered no damage may be eligible for reimbursement for additional living expenses incurred during evacuations.

Some insurance companies have stationed mobile response teams to meet with clients at the Home Depot, 3345 Grove Road, Phoenix. The business survived the Almeda fire.

Renters insurance

For renters’ insurance, the state of Oregon said policies will typically cover your personal belongings and personal liability, similar to the way a homeowners policy does. You will need to make a list of damaged items with the age, original cost, and the cost to replace it. Give the list to your insurance adjuster. Typically, the building owner’s policy covers the building you live in, but does not cover your property, your cost to find other housing, or your personal liability.

Advice for people who may face evacuation

Some Jackson County residents — especially those near the South Obenchain fire that has burned more than 32,000 acres between Butte Falls and Shady Cove — remain on alert to be ready to evacuate if the fire approaches their homes.

While waiting under an evacuation alert, if there is time, the state of Oregon recommends contacting your insurance company to check on your home and automobile coverage. .

If it is safe to do so, make a quick home inventory. Take photos or video of each room in your home. Pay close attention to what is on the walls and in drawers and closets. Do not forget storage areas such as the attic and garage. Check your insurance company’s website for an app or checklist that will help. You can also use the Insure U Home Inventory Checklist at insureuonline.org/home_inventory_checklist.pdf.

The handy checklist includes space to list valuables and their estimated price room by room, including furniture, bicycles, cameras, jewelry, major home appliances like washers and dryers, electronics and tools.

Manufactured home documents

Some of the hardest hit neighborhoods in the Almeda fire were manufactured and mobile home parks. Many residents fled without grabbing all the documents they’ll need in the days ahead.

The Oregon Building Codes Division can help people replace manufactured home ownership documents, which are important when navigating the insurance process.

The Oregon Manufactured Home Ownership Document system is available at aca-oregon.accela.com/OR_MHODS/. The system allows people to search for their documents and, once they find them, print or email them.

“These times are stressful enough without having to locate ownership documents in a damaged or destroyed manufactured home,” said Lori Graham, interim administrator of the Building Codes Division. “Using the MHOD system is the easiest and quickest way for people to get their documents. Yet, if they need help, we can send them a printed copy.”

If customers need an existing ownership document mailed to them, but are displaced from their home, they can email or call, and the division can send it to any address customers want. Call 503-378-4530 or 800-442-7457 (toll-free) or email mhods.bcd@oregon.gov for help.

Housing matchmaking service

ACCESS has launched a matchmaking service to connect people displaced by local wildfires with people who can offer a temporary place to stay.

The Rogue Valley nonprofit social services agency created an online Housing Connection Portal at accesshelps.org/housingconnection/.

People who have homes or rooms they are willing to offer can visit the portal and list the city where the housing is located and whether it’s a house, room, apartment, mobile home, recreational vehicle or fifth wheel trailer.

People with housing can say whether they prefer to host one person, a family or have no preference, and how many total people their property can accommodate. They can list the amount of time they can offer the housing, and the amount they would like for rent and a deposit, if any.

Those who have evacuated due to wildfires or who lost their homes can list how long they need housing, the number of people in their household, if they have pets and other information.

People with questions can email housingconnection@accesshelps.org.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.

Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneJim Phillips organizes his clothes at Inn at the Commons in downtown Medford Friday after being displaced from his house from the Almeda fire.