Homeowners evacuated as a result of the Hardy and Schultz fires could have a check coming their way if they call their insurance agent.
Local insurance agents say that most homeowners are aware their policy will cover for smoke and fire damage.
But they might not realized they are also cover for certain costs related to being evacuated, such as meals at restaurants, hotel rooms and even pet lodging.
Wes Thew with Flagstaff Insurance said those expenses can add up quickly, especially for those who were not allowed back into their homes for several days.
He said most homeowner's policies cover such additional living expenses.
"Under a typical homeowner's policy, if the civil authorities ask you to evacuate, you are covered," Thew said. "It is a very common type of coverage. A vast majority of the policies, if not all, has this type of coverage."
He says a similar clause can be found in insurance policies for those renting a home.
Becky Halstead, the owner of the Halstead Agency with Allstate Insurance Company, encouraged residents who might have lost or thrown away a receipt to try to find another way to document the expenses, such as a monthly bank or credit card statement.
She said the people handling the claim will be very understanding that homeowners first instincts were not to necessarily save scraps of paper as they worried about their homes.
"There are human beings on the other end of the phone," Halstead said.
Halstead said "reasonable and prudent" costs will be covered. One claimant pushed that boundary, she said, seeking reimbursement for the cost of buying cereal bowls when a furnished temporary location did not have any.
Both agents said insurance policies vary from company to company, and residents should start the claims process by calling their agent.
CHANGE THE AIR FILTERS
Erin Klug, a spokesperson for the Arizona Department of Insurance, said reimbursement for additional living expenses is not generally tied to a deductible, meaning most claims are paid for the full value.
She said, however, that claims for smoke damage would require the homeowner to likely pay the deductible. Klug estimated most homeowner's polices have a $500 or $1,000 deductible.
A few doors down from Flagstaff Insurance, Canyon Restoration has already been fielding calls from homeowners displaced by the fires last week.
The biggest concern for homeowners, says Trish Meredith with Canyon Restoration, is health problems related to the smoke imbedding in the carpet, the furniture and even the paint.
"Smoke is very acidic and corrosive, it can cause some serious health problems," she said. "It is very caustic and can imbed itself into everything."
She advises residents to change their air filters immediately after the fire and should consider changing them several times over the next few weeks."
Meredith said there are simple tests to decide whether a home needs to be professionally cleaned.
She asks residents to run a damp, white paper towel along surfaces to see how much soot it picks up -- a blackened towel is one sign the home might need a professional cleaning. Another sign is when the interior smells more like smoke than the exterior.
DON'T MAKE DAMAGE WORSE
With 20 years of experience in restoration, Meredith cautions that some attempts to clean homes after a fire could make the problem worse.
She said she has access to specialized equipment and uses special cleaning products when treating a home with smoke damage.
Thew said most homeowner's policies cover smoke damage, noting that some policies will even replace trees and other vegetation that burned during the wildfire.
"They won't pay enough for a new 40-foot tree, but they will give you enough for new trees and shrubs," he said.
Joe Ferguson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 556-2253.