How wildfire victims, evacuees can speed up fire insurance claims even without house damage

SONOMA, Calif. (KGO) -- Tens of thousands of people who evacuated from the lightning-sparked wildfires in the Bay Area may qualify for fire insurance payouts even if their homes escaped damage.

The LNU Lightning Complex Fire alone forced evacuations from the five-county area, ranging from Napa and Sonoma Counties all the way to Lake, Solano and Yolo Counties.

Fortunately, most will be able to return to their homes.

The Insurance Information Network advises homeowners they can get reimbursed for the cost of the evacuation.

"You may have extra expenses. If you're staying in a hotel or having to buy food that you wouldn't have normally bought," said Janet Ruiz of the Insurance Information Institute.

RELATED: How to prepare for a wildfire evacuation

She says those living expenses are payable under the "loss of use coverage" of your homeowner's policy.

Keep all your receipts and then file your claim.

Carmen Balber of Consumer Watchdog warns there are limits. "It may have a dollar cap. It doesn't mean you can go head over to the Ritz and get that covered," Balber says.

Unfortunately, others may discover their home has burned to the ground.

Amber Magness found the home she grew up in as a child destroyed.

RELATED: Thousands of homeowners in fire zones are losing their insurance

"I had a feeling. It's pretty bad. It's all flames up there," Magness said.

Contact your claims adjuster immediately and remember one important thing: Don't be afraid to push back if the adjuster reaches a settlement you feel is unfair.

"At the end of the day, the claims adjuster works for the insurance company, not for you," said Balber.

"People often don't realize that they negotiate and talk with their claims adjuster and their insurance company, just like you would with a contractor," Ruiz said.

Balber of Consumer Watchdog suggests not to go in and retrieve any salvageable items or begin the clean up until a claims adjuster has completed an inspection.

"You want the claims adjuster to be there first to document the loss before you start removing items," she explained.

A reminder for all of us. It's a lot easier to document your losses if you take 30 minutes now to video tape your home and documents your possessions.

(Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Janet Ruiz' affiliation. We apologize for the error)

Take a look at more stories and videos by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.

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