Deadly wildfires don't just destroy wildlife, vegetation and pollute the air; they can also destroy homes and communities and displace thousands due to mandatory evacuations. As of late September 2020, the West Coast wildfires burned more than 3.7 million acres in 11 states, forcing over 500,000 people to evacuate in Oregon alone.
The nature of wildfires means they can often take time to contain, which prolongs the stress and anxiety felt by those impacted. Unfortunately, once the fires are contained, many evacuees return to damaged property and a lot of hardship as they work to rebuild. However, there are many public and private resources available to help ease this process.
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Whether you own your own home or rent an apartment unit, you likely have some form of insurance in place to protect property and belongings. The same holds true if you own a vehicle. One of the first steps recommended in the immediate aftermath of a disaster is to get in touch with your insurance agent or company.
The Insurance Information Institute (III) also suggests the following to simplify wildfire damage claims and to reduce frustration:
- Include an accurate description of the damage and whether repair estimates are required.
- Find out the exact timeline for claims processing. This will provide you with an idea of when you'll receive money to expedite repairs.
- Determine what is covered and what isn't. For example, most soot and smoke damage is covered under standard homeowners and rental insurance policies. Your vehicle could also be covered, depending on comprehensive coverage.
For additional information, you can contact the state agencies responsible for insurance oversight. For example, in California, this is the California Department of Insurance, and in Oregon, it's the Division of Financial Regulation. If you live elsewhere, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) provides a list of agency insurance contact information for each state.
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Federal and State Agencies
While the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is one of the most visible agencies for emergencies, it isn't the only one with available resources during disasters. FEMA is one of many agencies under the umbrella of the federally managed Disaster Assistance Improvement Program (DAIP). The DAIP is in place to provide survivors of disasters with information, support, services and helpful tips.
The DAIP website is set up to help you navigate the federal system, and includes links and tips involving where to apply for help, the location of your FEMA disaster recovery center, where to look for housing assistance and nutritional needs, and more. Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers general tips and information on wildfire aftermath topics such as paying attention to health symptoms, cleaning up safely and even on how to protect your emotional wellbeing.
In addition to federal aid, each state has at least one agency with wildfire-specific and other emergency information in place. For example, the Ready.gov website offers a list of state and local emergency management information agencies, which can direct you to more specific wildfire management resources and contacts within your region.
State and U.S. elected officials might also have wildfire-dedicated resources available both during a wildfire and following their containment. For example, U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon created a page dedicated specifically to providing a list of available assistance, with links leading to veterans' assistance, housing help and essential document replacement.
Finally, state websites often offer information about wildfire assistance. For example, California's Post-Wildfire Recovery website provides a complete guide to resources available following wildfire containment, as does the Oregon Wildfire Resources website.
Community and religious organizations, as well as nonprofit entities, also provide relief during and after wildfires. Additionally, national organizations have locally active chapters or divisions in place that are set up to work with individuals during a disaster and provide resources that will aid in recovery.
Two well known national nonprofits are the American Red Cross and The Salvation Army.
The Red Cross provides food, shelter and relief supplies to those impacted by wildfires, both during the disaster and in the immediate aftermath. For example, in California and Oregon, they provide support through the following chapters:
- Central California
- Los Angeles
- Northern California
- Southern California
- Oregon (Willamette Chapter)
You can find your local and state Red Cross chapter(s) by visiting the Red Cross website and entering your ZIP code.
Meanwhile, The Salvation Army also provides immediate relief and long-term recovery assistance to those in need. In fact, Salvation Army divisions are providing wildfire support to many communities, including the following:
- California South Division
- Cascade Division (Oregon)
- Del Oro Division (Northern California and Nevada)
You can locate the group that serves your community by visiting their website and selecting your state from the drop-down menu.
Other regional and local organizations — such as food banks, religious groups and community agencies — are also available to provide various services, including food and water, health care, shelter and clothing. For example, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development website lists homeless shelters by state, and Feeding America makes it easy to find your local food bank.
The Bottom Line
Dealing with the aftermath of a disaster such as a wildfire can be stressful. Fortunately, there is help available to get you back on your feet. In addition to contacting your insurance company to see what kind of protection you have for wildfire damage, there are also a variety of federal and state agencies, nonprofits and private companies and organizations that have frameworks in place to offer you the right tools and resources necessary to move toward recovery after a wildfire.
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