Los Angeles Personal Injury Attorney
Facts About California Wildfires
Wildfires, also known as wildland fires, are unplanned and uncontrollable fires that often take place in forests and grasslands. In the United States, an estimate of 90 percent of wildfires are caused by people. Common human-made fires have occurred from unattended campfires, damaged power lines, burning debris, intentional arson, and burning cigarettes.
The U.S. had an estimate of 52,729 wildfire cases from January to November of 2021. These wildfires burned a total of 6.6 million acres of land. Some states experienced large fires that created catastrophic outcomes, such as California’s Dixie Fire. The Dixie Fire, known as the second largest fire in California history, occurred on Tuesday, July 13th of 2021. It burned 963,309 acres of land and demolished 1,329 structures. Unfortunately, more than 650 homes were destroyed, which displaced hundreds, if not thousands, of people.
Luckily, in spite of these awful circumstances, California residents may be able to obtain compensation for damages caused by a wildfire. Most standard homeowners insurance policies include fire damage. There are several coverage types available for people to acquire that will help them pay for the costs of repairing or replacing a home or personal property, such as dwelling coverage, “other structures” coverage, personal property coverage, and loss of use coverage.
If you have suffered injuries due to a wildfire accident and would like to file a claim against the party at-fault for your losses, West Coast Trial Lawyers has experienced Los Angeles personal injury attorneys who are available 24/7 to offer legal assistance. With our track record of recovering more than $1 billion in settlements for our clients, we are confident that we will deliver a good outcome to your case.
California is at high risk of having wildfires from July to October. If a wildfire occurs during the summer, it can cause grass, trees, and other plants to dry. This can trigger chaotic fires to occur in the months of September and October. Fire season may conclude once a substantial amount of rainfall appears during the fall and winter seasons. However, with California remaining in a drought, it may take longer for the fire season to come to an end. With that being said, it comes to no surprise that the state has experienced a total of 8,200 fires and 2.5 million acres burned in 2021. It has also been reported that 3,629 structures have been destroyed. Unfortunately, these fires have taken the lives of 3 people.
As previously stated, 90 percent of wildfires are caused by people. Knowing this fact, it has influenced the state to establish laws to prevent human activity from contributing to the cause of a wildfire. This includes the following:
- The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has enforced a statewide fire prevention order for people to follow during fire season. The public is required to maintain a 5-foot diameter area cleared to bare soil with no flammable materials surrounding the campfire. People are also expected to have a functioning round-point shovel that is at least 35 inches. It must be easily accessible in order to allow a person to quickly respond to a fire ignition. Lastly, it is required for people to acquire a valid California Campfire Permit.
- During a fire season, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) issues permits for prescribed fire activities. Permits may vary depending on the type of project that is being worked on. After the fire season is over, a permit is no longer needed to obtain from CAL FIRE, however, they encourage people to get the organization’s notifications before starting a prescribed fire project.
- Those that live in a State Responsibility Area (SRA), are obligated to have their property in compliance with California’s building and fire codes. Residents are expected to take out flammable materials surrounding their buildings to 100 feet in order to construct a defensible space buffer. This will help prevent wildfires from quickly approaching a building and will allow firefighters to have an easier time trying to protect building structures from burning down. This law also states that new homes must be made by using fire-resistant materials.
- California has established another law with the objective of protecting people from fires. According to Penal Code 409.5, officers will be permitted to restrict access to dangerous areas that may affect public health or safety.
How to Prevent a Wildfire
There are multiple actions that are encouraged for people to take into consideration in order to prevent a wildfire from occurring. This includes the following:
- Check the weather. If you notice that the weather appears to be hot, dry, or windy, you should refrain from doing any activities that involve fire or sparks, such as setting up a campfire or burning debris.
- Set up a campfire in an open location that is far away from flammable materials. In order to build a safe campfire site, you must find a flat, open area that has no flammable materials nearby. You should also remove grass, leaves, and needles down to the point where mineral soil is visible. If you are trying to start a fire, it is suggested to cut the wood in short lengths and have them piled in a safe area. Once you are done using the fire, you must extinguish it before abandoning the premises.
- Make sure to drench the fire with water until it feels cold. To ensure that the fire is entirely extinguished, you should pour a bucket of water onto it. Continue performing this action until your campfire is cold to the touch.
- Do not park your vehicle on dry grass. Since a vehicle’s exhaust can go up to, or over, 1,000 degrees, it is highly encouraged for drivers to avoid driving or parking their vehicles on dry grass.
- Perform regular maintenance checks of your equipment and vehicle. Any damaged or defective parts could trigger sparks to shoot out, specifically with vehicles that have not been up-to-date with regular maintenance checks.
- Make sure to have a shovel, bucket, and fire extinguisher in your vehicle. This will make it more convenient for you to put out a fire.
- If you are towing a trailer, you should perform a maintenance check. This will help you detect any worn out tires, greased bearings and axles, and improperly placed safety chains.
Homeowners Insurance Coverage
As previously stated, homeowners insurance can help cover fire damages. If your home was damaged, or destroyed, by a fire, the following policies will help repair or rebuild your home and replace personal belongings.
This coverage will help repair or replace your home and other structures nearby, such as the garage or deck. You will be covered up to the policy limits. Policy limits are determined based on how much it would cost to reconstruct your home. Materials and labor costs will also be considered.
Other Structures Coverage
“Other structures” are defined as objects that are not physically attached to your home, such as a fence. This will be determined based on the percentage of your dwelling coverage.
Personal Property Coverage
This coverage will apply to your personal belongings, such as your electronics, clothes, furniture, and kitchen utensils. Generally, the policy limit for this type of coverage falls around 50 to 70 percent of your dwelling coverage. To know whether you may have a good amount of personal property coverage, you should create a home inventory. You can list all of your personal belongings to check and see how much it would cost to replace each of your items if your home was demolished by a fire.
Loss of Use Coverage
If your home has been destroyed by a fire, loss of use coverage, also known as additional living expenses (ALE) insurance, will help compensate you for hotel stays, laundry services, and other costs. This policy may also still be effective even if you were evacuated and did not get any fire damage done to your home.
If you have suffered any injuries or damages because of a wildfire, you may be entitled to receive economic and non-economic damages.
Economic damages refer to the compensation that a victim is entitled to due to the financial losses they experienced as a result of the injury. Available economic damages for a wildfire victim include medical bills, property damage, and loss of earning capacity.
Non-economic damages refer to the compensation that a victim is entitled to due to the emotional losses that came with their injuries. Available non-economic damages for a wildfire victim include emotional distress, loss of enjoyment of life, and pain and suffering.
Wrongful Death Caused by a Wildfire
If a person is killed in a wildfire, the surviving family members or the estate of the deceased victim will be entitled to file a wrongful death claim against the party at-fault for damages. Damages may include:
- Burial and Funeral Expenses
- Medical Bills
- Loss of Consortium
- Loss of Enjoyment of Life
- Loss of Financial Security
- Loss of Companionship
- Pain and Suffering
- Emotional Distress
The statute of limitations for a wrongful death claim is two years starting from the initial date of death.
Contact West Coast Trial Lawyers Today
If you have sustained injuries as a result of a wildfire, you have the right to hold the at-fault party, or parties, responsible. A personal injury attorney at West Coast Trial Lawyers will help you recover compensation for the losses you have suffered, including medical bills, property damage, lost wages, pain and suffering, and more.