Family in their new kitchen after rebuilding following a wildfire

Home Insurance Claim Helps Wildfire Victims Rebuild

by Dawn Klintworth

In 2020 wildfires ravaged southern Oregon and other areas of the West coast, more than 1,000,000 acres of land (about the area of Rhode Island) and thousands of homes and buildings were destroyed. With more than 150 COUNTRY Financial clients affected, local agents started calling those in the path of the fires to make sure they were safe and, if necessary, help them start to file a home insurance claim.  

James and Lisa Dillingham and their two daughters lived in Eagle Point, Oregon, and they vividly remember their experience in September 2020 when the Obenchain Wildfire raced up the mountain and destroyed their family home. Learn how COUNTRY Financial helped them through the home insurance claim process so they could recover and rebuild their home.

Hear the Dillingham story

Key Takeaways

  • Know what’s covered by your home insurance, like understanding if you have actual cash value or replacement cost coverage

  • Meet with your agent regularly to keep your home insurance updated. 

  • Have an evacuation plan for natural disasters that could happen where you live – wildfires, hurricanes, tornados and more. Review this Wildfire Preparedness Checklist and other resources provided by the American Red Cross. 

  • Create and maintain a home inventory of your personal belongings. If you have a home insurance claim, you can use that inventory listing for your insurance company to pay your personal property coverage claims.

Learn more about the Dillingham’s home insurance experience

The Dillinghams were familiar with wildfire threats. They weren’t uncommon, but local fire fighters were usually able to get the fires under control. 

But in September 2020 when they learned of the growing threat, James Dillingham could see that high winds were spreading the fire and the number of fires were stretching beyond what available resources could handle. He knew fire fighters were focusing on the threats to highly populated areas and not being able to fight the fire approaching his home. 

Preparing to evacuate

The Dillinghams sensed the impending danger and started packing even before the official evacuation order. The family of four had 45 minutes to pack their important belongings in two vehicles and evacuate their family home. 

Lisa Dillingham explained, “We always had our go bags during this time of year, and our important documents were in the safe in case we had to evacuate.

“It was emotional because you always think you're ready like, we got this. And you're not. But for me, my priority was my family first and then our animals.”

The Dillinghams had an evacuation plan and knew where to go and what to take. With more wildfires popping up near the homes of their relatives, they moved multiple times before settling temporarily at a home that belonged to a friend of a friend. 

Starting the recovery process

After securing a small apartment near their property, James and Lisa returned to see what was left. Unfortunately, they found very little remaining. Their patio furniture, their daughters’ trampoline, an older car, and James’ trailer were slightly damaged but survived.  

Seeing those things that were spared helped the family know they were going to get through the experience. They had their land, and with the help of their home insurance, claim adjuster and insurance agent, they came together as a family to clear their land and start rebuilding. 

When the Dillinghams originally bought their homeowners insurance policy, they selected replacement cost coverage and the enhanced replacement cost option. With that protection, they were able to overcome the rising building cost and in May 2021, just nine months after the fire took their home, they moved into their new home. 

Building new memories 

The Dillingham family is thankful for the opportunity to rebuild their home and is an advocate of home insurance and reviewing coverage regularly. As they built their new home, they considered ways to make it safer from future wildfire threats. They’re as far away as possible from tree lines and installed an above ground pool to supply a water source to battle fire. 

Their youngest daughter Briseis, who was just nine years old at the time of the fire, reflects on the experience, “I just feel so thankful that we were able to build a house on the same property because I feel like I have a part of the old house with me.”

Review your home insurance

The Dillingham’s insurance agent, Tarah Sussman, advocates regular insurance reviews and encourages clients to have a home inventory. “I recommend my clients take a video of their belongings,” says Sussman. “So, if they ever have a house fire and their home is gone, they have something to look back on and can recall everything in their home.”

Having that inventory makes the home insurance claim process easier, and having those regular insurance reviews can help make sure you have the protection you expect and need. Contact your insurance agent for an insurance review today.

Video transcript 

Lisa Dillingham, COUNTRY Financial Client: We get a lot of fire threats out here. This time it was much different. There were fires coming in every direction. It's probably going to take our home. We called COUNTRY Financial, and they right away said, “Don't worry.” 

Tarah Sussman, COUNTRY Financial Insurance Agent: When a natural disaster hits like this, people are in a state of panic. My focus was making sure that my clients had the information that they needed, so they were confident and comfortable moving forward. 

James Dillingham, COUNTRY Financial Client: After the fire, as we crept closer to our property, there was nothing left, just piles of rubble. The motions were, wow, okay, now what do we do? 

Lisa Dillingham: Oh, it's just gone. 

James Dillingham: And then we got with Chuck, our primary adjuster. 

Lisa Dillingham: Everybody needs a Chuck Whitlock on their team. He is a voice of calmness. He was very transparent. Like, this is what you have, this is what we can help you with. 

Chuck Whitlock, COUNTRY Financial Claim Adjuster: My mindset is what if it was my home that was gone? What would I do? What would I need? 

James Dillingham: So, our new house, we love it. We were the first ones on Butte Falls Highway to get into our house. 

Chuck Whitlock: I was really happy that they were so satisfied. 

Lisa Dillingham: This is a prime example of having a good insurance company that's there for you. COUNTRY Financial showed up for us every second of the way.

Download video transcript


Updated 4-13-23

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