Fire victims warn others to have full insurance (VIDEO)

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As two women learn about life after a fire, they hope their loss will inspire others to do their own insurance research before it’s too late.

Every day, Janet Jensen-Wolf returns to her neighborhood in Louisville, Colorado to sift through what a fire in late December left behind.

“It’s not just a house. It was a life that I had before I was born, when I was born, and everything after. And it’s all in one place,” she said. “Now it’s all gone. And it’s hard to leave him.”

She digs for anything from her life before the fire.

“I have a memory of what it was like, you know, and I feel like I can go there,” she said. “But I come here, and I can’t. It’s gone. It’s all in the ashes or the debris. And that’s the hardest part. The rest I can handle. And go up and I can take this or I can take that. And then I come here and I know I can’t.”

You can see how quickly the fire took over Jensen-Wolf’s home in his photos, first time stamped at 3:42 a.m. Within six minutes most of the front of her house was in flames and within 10 minutes she was completely engulfed.

It’s heartbreaking to see how much remains of a life after a fire and wonder where to start. Then imagine you don’t have enough insurance coverage to even rebuild your house.

That’s exactly what happened to Jerolyn Ochs, who lived three doors down from Jensen-Wolf.

“I just knew it was gone,” she said. “I mean, the fact that my husband and I got out is no small miracle.”

She and the majority of her neighbors had insurance policies that won’t cover the amount it will take to rebuild. It was another surprise after the unexpected fires of December 30 that destroyed more than 1,000 homes.

MARITSA GEORGIOU DE NEWSY: Did you know you were underinsured?

JEROLYN OCHS: Oh my God no. Most people are underinsured. Unless you are that unicorn and there aren’t many unicorns in that insurance.

Jensen-Wolf is one of those unicorns. She is among the estimated 8% of fire victims who had full replacement coverage.

What wasn’t covered for Jensen-Wolf — and many other families — was what was inside. Antiques, tools from his father, souvenirs from his children. But she knows she is luckier than many of her neighbors.

“They’re underwater,” she said. “And there are families who are just selling their land. It’s for sale, and they’re leaving.”

The 18 year old Ochs house has been paid for and recently renovated. But now?

“We are in the first process draft with our architects,” Ochs said. “So that’s kind of a dot, dot, dot. We’re anticipating that we’ll probably need another three or four hundred thousand dollars, which is really tough when you’re – we were really putting it aside and saving for the retirement.”

Colordao’s insurance division wanted to know the extent of the underinsurance problem, so they analyzed insurance claims.

“We really want to try to get good data on this,” Vince Plymell said. “It was surprising. I mean, the numbers are important. And I think that just indicates that it’s on the minds of so many people. And the challenge is, you know, what are we doing to solve this problem?”

How many homeowners in the fire didn’t have enough coverage? It’s between 36% and 67% of those filing complaints.

The range depends on the cost per square foot to rebuild, which varies wildly from day to day. Combine that with a booming real estate market and an increased threat of wildfire, and making sure you have enough cover at all times becomes very complicated.

“So one of the things that we’re really exploring is, what can we do to provide more transparency, more information to the people we’re exploring?” said Plymel. “What can we do to get insurance companies to give people better information so they can make more informed decisions? Because our concern now is that they don’t necessarily have all the information to make good choices. So that’s one piece of something that I think is going to be very important.”

“I don’t remember our agent ever saying, ‘Hey, let’s sit down. Let’s look at your policy. Let’s see how your insurance is. Let’s see if you have the right amount of disaster insurance,” Ochs said.

Some insurance agents say it’s about striking a balance to make sure you’re covered without breaking the bank. This can be a challenge and sometimes your location makes it impossible.

“We had these coverages where you, if you’re in a high wildfire area, around the hard-to-insure area, you may not be able to get your full amount because the carriers will limit their exposure,” said Scott Welch, President of The Insurance Nerds at DL Williams Insurance.

Plymell encourages people to treat home insurance policies like your health insurance – Review your coverage at least once a year. Don’t wait for your agent to contact you.

“We tell people to ask questions, find out what you have in terms of your policy limits, what’s covered, what’s not covered, if you don’t understand something, ask questions. If you don’t understand, you’re not getting good information,” Plymell said. “Go to your Department of Insurance or here in Colorado at the Division of Insurance. Every state has a department or division of Insurance which regulates insurance in this state.

“God looks down on me,” Jensen-Wolf said. “I know he looks down on me.”

These are only two stories out of a thousand.

“People have moved on,” she continued. “It’s more the tragedy, it’s that life goes on and it’s still December 30. Our life has stopped. Our life has changed.”

As Jensen-Wolf and Ochs find out what’s next, they hope their loss will encourage others to dig in themselves before it’s too late.

“I see my neighbors and what they’re going through. It’s like, oh my God, I wish people knew what I knew,” Jensen-Wolf said. “And now I tell people when we talk about it, ‘Go check your insurance. Go get replaced.'”

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