By Libby Smith

DENVER (CBS4) – Tens of thousands of Coloradans were evacuated as the Marshall Fire swept across Boulder County. Many left their homes in such a hurry, they were only able to gather family, pets, and maybe a few important papers. And while those under the evacuation order were waiting to find out the fate of their homes, there are insurance benefits that they can access immediately.

“The way insurance works under a mandatory evacuation is that you have a certain amount of additional living expenses available to you under your homeowners policy, without damage to your home,” said Carole Walker, Executive Director of the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association.

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The additional living expenses can be used to pay for a motel room, meals, or personal items that an evacuee might need while out of their home.

“If you’re staying with friends or relatives hang on to those receipts because those are reimbursable if you do file a claim, so meal receipts, lodging receipts, and then talk to your insurance company about getting those extra monies right now to help you out in the short term,” Walker explained.

The Marshall Fire was unprecedented in Colorado history for its speed and destruction. It will likely be the mostly costly fire the state has ever seen. The insurance industry is mobilizing to begin the claims process.

“They’ve triggered their national catastrophe teams. They will be on site. We’re already coordinating with state and local officials about setting up some disaster recovery sites,” Walker said.

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This stunning tragedy has lessons for every homeowner and renter, including that it’s important to have a good knowledge of your insurance coverage.

“If you make one New Years Resolution this year, it is to do a home inventory, at least a video or photos of your items, hang on to receipts, because it does take the heartaches and headaches out of that claims process,” Walker told CBS4.

Walker had another word of warning for those who’ve lost so much in such a short time.

“We have disaster fraud, so the scammers are out there. They’ll be going door-to-door taking advantage of people. So what I tell people is, ‘Don’t panic. Be coordinating with your insurance company.’” Walker said.

The fire moved fast, but the recovery will be slow. The cost and timelines for rebuilding lost homes will be impacted by the supply chain issues that are causing shortages of lumber and paint amidst the Coronavirus pandemic.

Libby Smith