How to Clear Debris After a Fire

soot and charred debris following a house fire

One of the tasks that falls on property owners after a fire is the clearing of debris from the site. This is part of the process of returning the home to its pre-loss condition for insurance purposes. You will want to be sure you go about clearing debris in the right way to avoid any hiccups in the claims process. 

Who Pays to Clear Debris from a Home Fire?

This expense is covered under your homeowners insurance. The exact amount available to pay for clearing debris will depend on your specific policy. You will either need to use part of your Coverage A (Dwelling) benefits to pay for clearing the debris, or your policy may have extra benefits to help cover the cost of removal. 

These extra amounts may be a percentage of your Dwelling benefits (5, 10, or 15%) or they may be a fixed dollar amount that is specified under Additional Coverage.

What is Covered When Removing Debris?

As an expense necessary to restore your home to pre-loss condition, your insurance should cover any work needed to accomplish debris removal within the limits of the policy. This includes removing waste materials, pulling down damaged structures, and removal and restructuring of the foundation. 

Typically, tree removal is not included under debris removal. However, many policies will include an additional fixed amount to help pay for this expense. 

The specifics of your policy will vary according to your coverage limits; debris removal is outlined in detail under the Additional Coverages part of your policy. You will want to review this carefully with your insurance adjuster so there are no surprises. 

What Should I Do Before Clearing Debris?

Before you attempt to restore your lot, it is a good idea to get a written letter from your insurance adjuster stating that they have finished inspecting the area and that you have their permission to go ahead with debris removal. 

Once you have permission to clear the site, take photographs of all items you feel can be saved. Your insurance company will have compiled their own list of salvageable items and possibly hire a company to clean and store them. 

The cost to restore these items comes out of your benefits. Compare your photos to the list of items your insurance company has deemed worthy of restoration. If they have included items you do not feel are worth the cost of cleaning or storing, talk to your adjuster about removing those items from the list of salvageable objects. 

What Is a Coordinated Debris Removal Program?

In the event that your home was destroyed in a natural disaster that impacted other homes in your area, the city/county may arrange a coordinated program to clear debris in the community. While you do not have to participate in these programs, it is often a wise choice. Agreements made between your city council and insurance program may protect you from out-of-pocket costs associated with clean up.

The Boulder County Public Works Resource Conservation Division is currently organizing a debris removal program for areas affected by the Marshall Fire. Visit their site for instructions on how to participate. 

What if My Insurance is Refusing to Pay for Debris Removal?

Debris removal is considered a necessary expense under your homeowners insurance policy and should, therefore, be covered. If your insurer is refusing to extend coverage for costs associated with debris removal, it may be time to hire a fire insurance attorney. 

Even in times of tragedy, such as a fire, insurance companies may look for ways to deny coverage, relying on vague exclusions or irrelevant regulations. The Roth Group is here to help you in such situations. If you feel your claim is being mishandled in any way, please contact our office or go online to schedule your free evaluation.