Santa Rosa, CA,
16:22 PM

Wildfire Victims Find Hope in Midst of Devastation

Learning invaluable lessons on the way to recovery

The most destructive wildfire in California history devastated northern Bay Area counties in October of 2017. Retirees, Ed and Carol from Santa Rosa – the town hit worst - lost nearly everything in the fire that burned more than 36,000 acres and took 22 lives.

Residents for nearly 30 years, they raised their family in this small city. Now, like so many others, they are rebuilding.

A Warm and Windy Night

Ed and Carol woke up around 1:30 a.m. to the strong smell of smoke and large ash flakes falling like snow. They were prepared and put their emergency evacuation plan into action; leaving just twenty minutes later.

The destruction of their primary home and their four other properties was complete. Their unrecognizable neighborhood and region left thousands of other victims with similar, sometimes worse, fates.

The couple feel fortunate they prepared for a possible emergency evacuation. They grabbed almost all their photo albums, important memorabilia, family heirlooms, and critical documents. They even got their cherished bicycles and Carol's prized handmade quilts. Saving these items from the wrath of the fire provided some comfort and allowed them to proceed with their recovery.

Critical Communication

One of the first things they did was call their State Farm Agent. That initial conversation put them at ease. State Farm had people and resources in place to help them recover.

Educating customers about their insurance coverages and the claims process is a key part of a claim specialist's role. From the beginning, Ed says every conversation with a claim specialist begins with a review of their available insurance coverages.

"Every one of these people told us not to worry," said Ed. "Everyone reviewed with us what our coverage was. This is the first thing that would happen,” he explained. "The bedside manner was very good."

We Are in this Together

The contents inventory process is the part of the claim where customers will document damaged and destroyed personal possessions and replace them. The process can be time consuming and may lead to a great deal of questions.

"We always felt we could call and ask," said Carol. "Every time we called, there was an answer."

Understanding this process and working with the claim specialists helped make their recovery smooth. Nevertheless, it was still an anxiety-filled time. There are many other aspects to an insurance claim besides the inventory process. The couple said trusting the experts reduced the stress and panic that is natural in this type of situation.

Compassion Builds Strength and Hope

Often after a tragedy, communities pull together and people show extraordinary compassion towards one another - and so it was in this situation.

During one of their many conversations with a claim specialist Carol mentioned a book she lost in the fire. It was a rare book about a homesteader from Carol’s hometown.

A couple weeks later, Carol received a package in the mail. Her claim specialist found a copy of the book. Touched by the gesture, Carol said the claim specialist "was so thoughtful. She went above and beyond."

Simple acts of kindness and generosity go a long way. Ed and Carol regularly invite people to their home to share a meal and are available to their friends and neighbors who need help.

The couple has not let the rebuilding process get in the way of enjoying life. Involvement in their church, helping others, and staying connected to friends and family keeps them focused on what is important.

An Important Lesson

Compassion for others and trust in the experts anchors their recovery. Ed and Carol are resilient and have a positive outlook. However, there is one thing they wished they'd done to better prepare.

Their agent had regularly invited them to an insurance and financial review, but Ed and Carol say they never made it a priority.

"If I could go back in time, I would listen to Christine (State Farm Agent) when she would leave those messages on the phone encouraging us to come in and review our policies,” Ed shares. “We ignored those. When you make a mistake, there is a consequence."

You can take all the necessary precautions for life’s scariest moments but without proper insurance coverage, you may not fully recover from a tragedy like a wildfire. Making an insurance and financial review a regular habit can be a critical part of any disaster preparedness plan.

In a moment of levity, Carol shares exactly what her response will be the next time they get a review call from their agent, "Do you have time this afternoon?"


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