July 18, 2007                                                         Contact:Lucas Hamilton


      Insurance Commissioner John Morrison urged Montana homeowners to safeguard themselves against summer wildfires by getting “fire ready“ and “insurance smart“.
      As scores of wildfires ravage the Western U.S., Montana officials have upgraded the fire danger to “extreme” in parts of the state. Dozens of wildfires have ignited across Montana already this season, but thanks to the quick responses of fire crews, all but three been snuffed out. Morrison said the need is urgent to prepare and protect oneself during the current fire season.
      “Act now to protect yourself,” Morrison said.  “Montana is in the midst of a sweltering summer, residents should get fire-ready today by putting a plan in place to make your home fire safe. Protecting your home from wildfire is your responsibility. To reduce the risk, you’ll need to consider the fire resistance of your home, the topography of your property and the nature of the vegetation close by. The work you do to minimize wildfire risk may entitle you to discounts on future homeowner’s insurance premiums – be sure to inquire with your agent.”
      In addition to creating a survivable space, Morrison reminded Montanans to check their homeowner’s insurance policies to make sure they have enough coverage in the case of a total loss. “Careful review of your insurance policy can prevent a disaster from striking twice,” Morrison said. “Remember, insurance carriers may not add or amend coverage when there is an impending disaster – so don’t wait until the fire is at your doorstep.”
      Farm and ranch insurance policies differ from homeowner’s insurance policies in that they may combine coverages for the dwelling (personal) property and the farm and ranch (commercial) property. As with other commercial policies, the farm/ranch property may need to be scheduled in order to have coverage. For example, the loss of cattle is generally not covered unless specifically scheduled with an additional premium paid. To be sure, it is important to go over the coverages and anticipated premiums with an agent.
      “After touring the Derby fire area last year, the issue of greatest concern to property owners was the enormous uninsured costs of replacing burned fenceline,” said Morrison. “Ranchers should double-check their policies specifically for fencing coverage if they want to be insured against this type of loss.”
      Insurance Commissioner Morrison recommended five important steps Montana homeowners should take now to help prevent their insurance issues from becoming a problem in the event of a fire:
      Insurance-Smart Checklist:

  • Carefully re-read and understand your insurance policy, especially all endorsements/riders. Make sure you have the proper level of coverage and that your home is not underinsured in case of a total loss. It is essential to understand whether your homeowners policy will cover your needs in the event of a catastrophe.
  • Store important documents such as your insurance policy and mortgage papers in a safe place outside your home, such as a safe-deposit box.
  • If you must evacuate your home quickly, make sure you grab these important documents if they are in your home. In the event of a loss, having key insurance and mortgage documents will make it easier to establish your claim.
  • Take pictures (or better yet, videotape) your household belongings, making an item-by-item inventory of all contents including valuables in every room of your home. Note the approximate value of each item and when it was purchased.
  • Keep the photo inventory in a safe deposit box outside the home or send it to a friend or relative for safekeeping.
      Morrison also offers steps homeowners can take to reduce the fire threat around their homes. “Exercising good maintenance habits in the area surrounding your home will provide some protection if a fire breaks out nearby. Reduce your risk by preparing now – before wildfire strikes,” said Morrison.
      Fire Safety Homeowners Checklist:
  • Plan a fire escape route and practice evacuation once a year.
  • Create a family disaster plan: identify two exit routes from your neighborhood.
  • Create a “survivable space” around your property.
  • Don’t allow surrounding vegetation to become overly dry during the hot summer months.
  • Plant drought-tolerant vegetation within three feet of your home.
  • Stack woodpiles at least 30 feet from all structures.
  • Have a working fire extinguisher in your kitchen and garage.
  • Keep tools for firefighting close, such as hoses, buckets, rakes, shovels and an ample water supply.
  • Make sure your street name and address is not duplicated in your county.
  • Make sure your address is displayed at the beginning of your driveway and is visible from the street.
  • Have smoke detectors on all levels of your home – replace batteries annually.
  • Have your chimney inspected and cleaned every year.
  • Never leave coals or wood fires burning; wait until all coals are cool enough to touch before shutting down a barbeque.
      Morrison’s office is partnering with a newly-created coalition of forestry, government, conservation groups and insurance industry representatives that formed with the shared goal of improving state and community wildfire protection. The group is known as Fire Safe Montana and one of the issues they plan to address is the growing problem of home construction in the wildland-urban interface.
      “Wildfires and structural fires have no mercy. Montana is no stranger to the wrath of a wildfire’s destructive path. It’s critically important to not only take defensive measures to protect your home and property but also to become insurance smart and examine your policies today,” said Morrison.
      For more information about forest fire preparedness, visit the ‘Wildfire’ page of the State Auditor’s Office website at: http://www.sao.mt.gov/other/wildfire.asp. Montanans with insurance related questions or concerns can contact the State Auditor’s Office at 1-800-332-6148 or online at www.sao.mt.gov.