California Wildfires...The Challenges Of Recovering After An Injury

California wildfires...According to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, California residents endured 4,715 fires consuming a total of 94,855 acres between January 1 and August 17, 2013. This represents a significant increase over the same period in 2012. For victims of, starting over after a wildfire can seem like a monumental task. Victims must identify and replace lost property, resolve medical issues, and cope with the emotional toll caused by the fire. Overcoming these challenges is possible if they are take one at a time.

Resolving Health Concerns

The first priority after any disaster is to protect life and treat physical injuries; property can always be replaced later. Fires pose a variety of health concerns to victims, not all of which are obvious. Respiratory illnesses are of particularly great concern. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, smoke inhalation, asphyxiation, and exposure to hazardous chemicals are all responsible for most deaths in fires; actual burns kill relatively few people, particularly in the case of wildfires where residents are advised in advance to evacuate.

The severity of the injury will dictate the response. If you are having trouble breathing, have suffered a serious injury as a result of a structural collapse, or have a third or greater degree burn, contact 9-1-1 immediately or head to the nearest emergency room. Should the severity of your injuries warrant it, contact a personal injury lawyer Pasadena residents have come to rely on in such cases. Serious injuries that are not life threatening may warrant a trip to an urgent care clinic. For other injuries, visit your primary care physician. When seeking medical attention, always follow the physician’s orders.

Replacing Lost and Insured Property

Replacing lost property can be very difficult for those whose homes held the contents of their entire lives. This problem can be compounded by the difficulty of recalling what was in the home as well as the object’s value. For insurance purposes, many homeowners in fire-prone areas will document major purchases and walk through their home with a video camera. This documentation is usually kept off site in a safety deposit box or storage unit. Homeowners with such detailed documentation should retrieve it immediately, as the insurance company is likely to want evidence of the home’s contents.

Recovering on large claims will be difficult without evidence that the items ever existed. The insurer will likely require an affidavit and may be skeptical about undocumented large purchases. Fortunately, most large purchases are handled by credit card or by check; even if the original documents were lost in the fire, credit card providers and banks will have detailed records on file to help prove larger purchases. Victims should read their policies carefully, as most policies will exclude “acts of God,” which may apply to the wildfire, depending upon how it originated.

If the insurer denies the claim for any reason, consult with an attorney experienced in handling insurance litigation. Insurance companies often deny legitimate claims, particularly when the damages are high and the insurer has numerous claimants in the same area with the same policies. Erroneously attributing damage to causes excluded in the policy or denying the existence of certain damages are common delaying tactics. Legal representation helps victims deter and respond to any unethical conduct that may occur.

Replacing Lost and Uninsured Property

Due to the prevalence of California wildfires, fire insurance in some areas of can be exorbitantly expensive. Without insurance, victims are likely to incur significant economic losses as a result of the fire. There is little to be done afterwards that can mitigate these damages. Most people do not have the resources necessary to replace a home and its contents. This leaves many to depend upon family members who may not be capable of providing the financial assistance necessary.

Fortunately, community-based organizations and private charities stand ready to assist victims of wildfires. A significant number of private relief funds exist to help victims pay rent, replace lost valuables, and pay for the necessities of life. Local churches and other faith-based organizations routinely offer such assistance to victims in their local communities. While it is unlikely that private charities will be able to compensate victims fully, victims of California wildfires generally need not fear homelessness or complete financial ruin.

Recovering From The Emotional Blow

The worst part of being victimized by California wildfires is not just having asthma aggravated by smoke or having to replace drywall and rebuild a structure. The most challenging part of being a victim is the emotional damage that is inherent whenever one loses a home. To its owners, a home is not a “structure.” It is a place where family memories are created. It is a safe haven where its family expects to live out their days in peace and security. When a wildfire destroys that haven, the family's sense of peace and security may be destroyed as well. To make matters worse, wildfires destroy family photo albums and souvenirs; such items have little monetary value but are emotionally irreplaceable. The best way to recover from the trauma of being a disaster victim is to continue to look forward. You cannot change the past. And just as you cannot undo the fire, the fire cannot undo the fond memories you and your family created. If every family member escaped the blaze, and if no one was seriously injured, then the important things in life are still present.

Writer LaGeris Underwood Bell hopes this article will encourage the victims of California wildfires by providing helpful tips on how to start over.


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