Unexpected Bug Out from Home

Today we present another article for this round in our non-fiction writing contest – by Chuck

I started prepping while living in Alaska for nearly 12 years. When I moved down to the lower 48 states a little over 2 years ago, I met a wonderful woman who is now my wife. My wonderful wife is my partner and best friend in in the prepping lifestyle. We both enjoy the self-sustaining lifestyle of prepping but found out recently that we still had some more areas to work on.

A few months ago, my wife and I moved to the eastern part of Washington State in order for my wife to be close to her elderly parents. We moved onto their rural 20 acre property and live in our travel trailer. We both enjoy the rustic lifestyle and work hard to improve our preparedness for whatever we may face.

My in laws live on thickly wooded acres in the county. Our home is surrounded by land owners who also have large tracts of thickly wooded rural property. Railroad tracks are less than a ¼ mile away and run the through a valley neighboring everyone’s property. On the property we had had an established fenced area where we housed 26 birds that included both chickens and ducks. We also had a goat shelter where our 2 Nigerian dwarf goats resided.

On Wednesday June 24, 2015 my father in law came to the trailer and stated that a wild fire was coming our way. My wife was at work and only my father in law and I were home when this occurred. Going outside I noted a large smoke cloud not far from our property. Putting on sneakers, I initially started to drag a garden hose to the house where the water faucets were but soon noted that my father in law had a hose already hooked up with the sprinklers on which covered the porch area. Noting that my water hose was useless at this point, I went up to the chicken and goat pen and noted the fire was several hundred yards away and closing. With the help of my father in law, we were able to get the goats out and packed into his dog trailer where he had his hunting dogs already packed up.

The fire was getting closer, the air was heating up, and now ash was starting to be in the air of the house and trailer. I grabbed both of our Bug Out Bags (BOB’s), portable water jugs, a large tent, my firearms, the cat and my dogs and loaded everything into our Suburban. Minutes after driving down our 1/4 mile wooded driveway, the fire swept over the property and crossed our driveway into the neighbor’s area. I estimate that I only had 20-30 minutes from the initial warning until I drove off the property.

Six hours later the Fire Department allowed us back unto the property to gather a few essentials. The area was still actively burning and Fire Department personnel were everywhere attempting to secure the area around the homes. The Fire Department personnel had saved my in laws home and our trailer from burning.  Thank you is not enough for those individuals who saved our home. After placing our animals in a local kennel, we spent two nights in a local hotel. On Friday, when we returned home there were parts of the property still actively burning.

The Fire Department has reported that a train probably started the wild fire by emitting sparks which ignited the dry vegetation. I was informed that the fire jumped both train tracks, and when up the hill to burn our area. The area was dry, hot and had no rain for weeks. Nearly 150 rural wooded acres burned. Today (Monday) as I write this, there are still hot spots around the property. Woodland firefighters are still present around the property dousing hot spots.

We lost our entire flock of chickens and ducks. The fired destroyed 2 chicken coops and the goat shelter. The main house was burned in the area of the deck and had some internal damage due to the open windows and hot embers getting inside. Our trailer suffered some minor damage. Our two carports and everything underneath them were completely destroyed.

The day after the fire we called our insurance company, State Farm, and were told not to do anything until and adjuster called. We called the company again on Friday, and again on Saturday and never heard from the adjuster. On Monday, we finally heard from an adjuster who is located in Arizona. The adjuster informed us that because we did not change our policy address immediately on moving we would only be reimbursed 10% of our total policy for our losses. The adjuster also stated there is nothing in our policy that allows for post fire cleanup. My wife and I didn’t know either of these “policy” stipulations. I will say this to everyone I can. State Farm has TERRIBLE customer service. Read your policies now and know them before you have to deal with such a terrible company like this. It appears that the company is looking for ways not to pay out for our claims, even though my wife has been with them for years.

So, what did we learn from this situation? My initial reaction to the fire alarm was one of low concern. I should have immediately taken a more serious approach to the warning. Many of our preps were located in various areas of the property and were not consolidated for quick packing. Due to my short time frame to pack and our important preps were not consolidated I simply did not pack them. This include food (human and dog), sleeping bags, and extra ammunition for the firearms. My wife found areas for improvement in how she packs her Bug Out Bag. PS: Don’t forget the extra pair of underwear for you BOB. Comfort in this area is important.

We were able to save our cat, dogs, and goats. We were able to live out of our BOB’s for several days while in the local hotel. We were very blessed to have family and friends of my in laws who helped us in several ways after the fire occurred.

In conclusion, I encourage everyone to reevaluate their individual situation. If you had to bug out of home with a very short notice, would you be able to quickly load up everything you need? Are you insurance policies up to date and you are familiar with those policies? What areas can you find where improvement can be made? Where would you go if you had to quickly leave your home? What about your animals?

I do thank God for his hand watching over us. We still have a roof over our heads, our health, and our pets. We have lost thousands of dollars in damage and will not recover those losses from insurance reimbursement. Yet, we are still blessed. I hope everyone reading this takes the time and reevaluates their situation. Do not think it can’t happen to you.

Prizes for this round (ends July 10 2015 ) in our non fiction writing contest include…

  1. First place winner will receive –  A case of Yoder’s Canned Bacon (12 cans, $169.95), a case of Future Essentials Canned Green Coffee Beans (12 cans, $143.30 value), and a case of our Future Essentials Canned Breakfast/Cold Cereal Variety with Milk (12 cans; a can each of Raisin Bran, Rice Krispies, Corn Flakes, Apple O’s, Whole Grain Frosted Wheat’s, Cocoa Rice Krispies, Honey & Nut O’s, Fruity O’s and Frosted Flakes, as well as three (3) Cans of Powdered Milk Substitute (18 oz. each) – (a value of $62.90) all courtesy MRE Depot and a  WonderMix Bread Mixer courtesy of FoodPrepper.com a $300 value. Total first place prize value over$674.
  2. Second Place Winner will receive – A Royal Berkey water filter, courtesy of Directive 21 (a $283 value) and an autographed copy of 31 Days to Survival
  3. Third place winner will receive –  A gift certificate for $150 off of Hornady Ammo courtesy of LuckyGunner Ammo.
Please Spread The Word And Share This Post

Comments

  1. JP in MT says:

    Chuck:

    Your story just emphasis’ the need for everyone to be prepared for a Bug-Out. It’s not about TEOTWAWKI, it’s because “stuff happens”. We have fires all the time, but seldom are they close. But they could be. As timber cutting gets “intercepted” to the enviro-nuts we have more and more areas that are just ripe for a fire. And with all that fuel, it will be hot, smoky, and fast. You story is just a fine example of what can happen.

    • A good reminder not to buy cheap crap insurance! do your homework see how others have been treated…I know this company, I dumped them 40+ years ago!!

  2. I agree with JP’s comments. We had a similar situation some years ago when we lived in central Wisconsin. We had Allstate insurance at the time. I have to say they did a terrific job of inspecting the damage we incurred and gave us a check on the spot. They had a mobile service unit on location in the nearby town within one day of getting fire department approval.

  3. Chuck Findlay says:

    I live in Ohio so wild fires have never been and probably never will be an issue. My question (coming from no experience with wild fires) is can you and will you cut back the brush to prevent future fires from approaching so close to you, your animals and buildings?

    It may be that the fire would make the jump across the open area, but I know they cut fire stops in forest areas. If they do it, it would make me think it may work. But like I said, I don’t know.

    Also if you have grid water how about installing a piping system with spray heads to shower buildings with a mist of water across the top of the buildings? I have to think this would just about stop them from burning as long as the grid-based water flowed through your pipes.

    • I have just such a set up on my house. PVC running up to the roof and whirly bird sprinklers at 4 spots up there that will cover the house and about 30 feet around it. Not sure if it will stop a big fire but it was fairly cheap to install and makes me feel better.

    • My friends/family in Alaska cut back anything within range of their homes, say 50 to 100 feet at least, and keep the grass mowed, too. They get a lot of human-started, and lightning-started fires up there. Usually, the ones started by people are the most damaging because of being in more populated areas.

    • JP in MT says:

      Chuck:

      Forest fires can burn so hot and move too fast. We have limitations on what we as individuals can do. You get the kind of grown growth we have right now as high temps and winds …we’ll I’ve seen these fires jump 4 lane divided freeways! They are just plain nasty.

      There are things you can do to mitigate some damage, but if it’s really coming for you, usually on a 5-10 MILE front, you just get out of it’s way.

  4. Babycatcher says:

    I’m sorry for your losses. However, due to your warning, we will be taking a closer look at our State Farm policy. They were very good to us several years ago after hail damage here( got a new roof and checks for the cars) but I’m not sure if that’s changed. Thanks for the heads up….

    • Babycatcher
      If you do not find it in the policy, check for recent notifications from the company. It will be listed in ‘exclusions’, or amendments to the policy.

  5. Axelsteve says:

    Living in North California we have fires that get pretty big at times.Even living in town we still have plenty of fuel to burn so fire by embers is a reality.Thank you for the reminder.

  6. I’ve had bad experience with almost every single HOI I’ve had.

    They try to weasel out of insuring my home every year. The biggie is cosmetic deferred maintenance visible from the street. If they see peeling paint on the trim or something like that, they will find fault with everything on the house.

    They also try to pretend you need full exact replacement of the home, which would make for a limit of 5 times the actual value of the house. I’ve had them raise my premiums to be more than twice as much as the actual principal and interest together before due to a switcheroo in coverage. I’ve also had them require “repairs” that were legally not necessary according to code, such as a porch rail and stairs on a porch that was one foot high to begin with, and the removal and replacement of a brand new 2 layer roof, in order to weasel out of insuring my home.

    Last year I completely renovated the cosmetics of my house in order to get refinanced, and hopefully this will make them shut up for a few years. However I’m looking to eventually move to the country. Whatever I do, I’m going to pay cash and have it be very inexpensive, like a fixer upper trailer or tiny house I build myself. And they can take their insurance and shove it.

    • JP in MT says:

      Penny Pincher:

      My personal opinion of HOI’s is like having covenants on property. Others want a say in how you use your assets, and it’s is just about control.

    • swabbie Robbie says:

      If you build a tiny house on wheels, be sure to depart from the trendy and overly heavy cedar sided plywood on 2X4 construction so commonly seen. Look at aluminum or steel 2 bys metals siding and roofs and fireproof insulation. You will breathe easier.
      With travel trailers and tiny houses on wheels you should have it easy to hook up and move in cases like fires, floods, and huricanes.

  7. Try contacting the Washington Insurance Comissioner’s office to verify the information State Farm gave you, and that it’s compliant with WA State law’s.

    I do not bank with nation wide banks, and I try not to insure with national firms either. Especially those with stadiums and event centers. I know, it’s business diversification, but….

    I am glad that all are safe and your homes were saved. Sorry to hear about your livestock. We are near RR tracks as well, and there are a few fires each year started by trains. Sparks from steel to steel contact, an overheated bearing, or?

    I hope E WA doesn’t get the fire’s it has had the past years. Especially around Wenatchee, they’ve been hit hard the last couple of years. Gonna be another dry year.

    • Northernwolf says:

      I live in western wa. And we are quite dry I really fear a fire here as we have so much to burn,it would be very hard to cut back with all the trees and those who toss their cigarettes out the window are not to smart, already we have had fires along the freeways

  8. Outstanding info !

    Thank you !

  9. mom of three says:

    Yes, it is great information im too sorry about the fire , and yes both side’s of Washington, are DRY. We live on the West side I wish we could live on the Eastern side, both my parents come from the Yakima, area. I just went through my rubber maid bucket, and we have a tent, medical box, I need to get clothing put together and keep in another box. Insurance Companies, are only looking out for themselves remember
    the Incredible? What Mr. Incredible, did for a living? An
    insurance agent, and how he had to go around the law’s to
    help his clients.

  10. Chuck
    As recommended call the insurance commissioner office in WA, file a complaint against SF.
    If you are insured with a BIG name company, how many of you have ever checked with the independent insurance companies in your area? First they give you hands on service as they represent the company you would be insured with, and secondly they can be your go between with the actual company they represent. Next if you have questions on your coverage ASK the local representative(independent agent)to explain the coverage. They should be able to answer your questions on the spot, if it is one that is a grey area they will call the company underwriter for you and get the straight facts about a type of coverage.
    Heads up, if you wish your antiques(firearms/jewelry/collectibles) to be replaced for what they are worth, you will need an appraisal. Otherwise you will receive the limited amount listed for the whole lot which in most cases is only $500.00 total.
    Most companies give you a 30 day grace period to “update” your coverage or change status where you are living.
    We have been in your shoes and lost it all, and requested a different claims representative. You have that right.
    Your in laws HO policy might have a clause for the trees that were lost on the property. Have them check that coverage, as time goes on those trees will die and become a hazard. Hope this small amount of information helps you.

  11. Happy Camper says:

    I’m sorry for your losses and the ordeal that you are going through Chuck. It’s traumatic to experience a fire and it will stick with you for a long time.
    The difference in fire and flood situations is generally fire hits fast, a flooding takes more time. No matter how much we prep, Mother Nature can’t be outsmarted often.
    I have a fire plan on the wall in my pantry, all important documents are together in a bag and I keep a fireproof blanket in my car and 20l of water. I live in a very fire prone area- before I bought my house last year it almost burned in a big big bush fire (google kungala fires 2014).
    Interesting to me is I purchased this property, land, house, shedding etc for 300k, however the minimum rebuild value on my house alone is 425k according to my insurer which seems kind of crazy. But I figure if the insurance company wants to build me a far better house if this one burns then so be it !
    It’s always seemed crazy to me when people go for a cheap insurer and undervalued policies. Trust me, you want a good insurer at a bad time…. Yes I’ve accidentally flooded a house, ex hubby burned a shed down and for good measure I’ve even been in a few car smashes and income insurance has been a god send. Always over insure your posessions.

  12. Soggy Prepper says:

    I am so sorry for your loss. The fire would have been bad enough, now coupled with the insurance, what a nightmare! I’m glad all the people involved were unharmed. Sorry about the livestock. We are in western WA and it is super dry and fireworks will be going off soon, probably not a good combination. I will definitely be going through our BOBS tomorrow. I haven’t done that for about 4 years. Also I’m going to get our old camp tub packed with stuff too, it’s scattered here and there. Maybe make a master “grab list” of what and where. Guess it takes an emergency to shake the complacence. I’ll keep you in prayers.

  13. @ Chuck
    I work for a contractor that does a LOT of insurance claim work. Hear is a few little ideas for you.
    1 do NOT except the adjusters claim input as the final word
    2 Get ahold of the “local” State Farm agent, set up a meeting, and do a sit down with them explaining the situation.
    3 remember the Adjuster works for the Insurance Co as a “contractor. So it is his idea to “save” the insurer money.
    4 Demand that the Adjuster does a site visit, they are “required” to do so.
    5 Do not allow the Adjuster to weasel out of the site visit, most times they will relinquish their claim and send a “local” adjuster out.
    6 Fight like heck to up the payout. Call 4 times a day, write letters, bug the heck out of them until they give in to your demands
    7 80% of the times we win the battle with the adjuster because of their inexperience in the local area.
    8 Do not stop at the local agents decision, ask them for their “regional” supervisor and the “regional supervisor’s ” Lawyer.
    9 Next contact the “train” responsible for the fire. They are required to maintain their “tracks” to prevent fires. They are liable for your fire.
    10 You may have a huge fight on your hands, but it’s well worth it in the long run
    11 don’t forget about the loss of your animals, and the offspring of those animals. Also pain and suffering, loss of “scenic” view (property devaluation) and so on.
    12 Smoke damage, removal of charred dirt/dust that has blown into your home, the list is endless.

    All of the above you need to sit down with the agent and emphasize that you “will” be reimbursed for, period. Or they will be hearing from you for a very very long time.

    NRP

    • NRP
      Thanks for the reminder.
      All receipts for your additional living expenses(yours)( in-laws covered by their policy)will need to be ready to give the the adjustor(s).
      Give them your copies you retain the originals, mark what the cost was for, food, motels, tooth brushes, deodorant. What you
      needed to live since you had no home to lay your head down and the supplies that went with that displacement.

    • You can add potential erosion due to loss of vegetation when the rains return.

  14. TPSnodgrass says:

    Ditto on NRP’s post above. Adjusters are required BY LAW, even in Washington to make an on-site inspection of the damage. Hold them to that. BE the squeaky wheel. Then, if all else fails when meeting with a local State Farm agent, use the words “bad faith” and I’m taking this to the media after this conversation IF, I do not have successful resolution to my claim.
    Also, you can(and should ) file litigation against State Farm with a local Plaintiff’s attorney.(Sometimes called whiplash willie’s) They will take your case of negligence, bad faith against State Farm, and remember ASK for a jury trial, because your fellow homeowners WILL be called for the jury pool. State Farm WILL delay as long as possible, then try to negotiate at the last minute to avoid having the huge costs associated with defending such a claim. also, ask for the adjustors NAME, License Number, and WHICH company he/she works for. They may not even be State Farm employee, but a third party adjustment firm, so it IS important. If you have have not doe so already, please video ALL of the damage to your property as well as your in-laws property for proof that a “claim” is indeed valid since NO adjustor inspected the property at all. The assertion by the adjustor that because you moved and “failed” regardless of the reason to notify State Farm of the new address you have NO coverage is false. Read the policy’s fine print, that is flat out bogus. The adjustor is not licensed to operate in Washington, (he/she MUST be to “adjust” the claim), YOU and your in-laws (if they have State Farm) ARE in a lot better shape than you might think. I spent a second career after law enforcement investigating loss claims for Lloyds of London Special Risk Underwriters and those guys are tough. The so-called adjustor breached the liability of State Farm in so many ways it is sickening. MD, you have my permission to give my personal email to the author IF they want or need it. This is despicable.

  15. TPSnodgrass says:

    In addition, yes, the rail transport company IS responsible for the fire, if the official determination of cause was made. Also, State Farm can and should BY LAW, subrogate their liability to you the policy holder by suing for their losses in your claim to the rail company. Failure for them to do so, is negligent cause to you and to the shareholders of State Farm. See, it’s NOT as bleak as you thought it might be. I am not familiar with the law regarding naming the adjustor IN litigation for bad faith and negligence, but I would certainly have you attorney go after him/her for a claim against their “Errors and Omissions” segment of their professional coverage.Hope all of the above helps.

  16. We drove out to my wife’s new school yesterday and saw the effects of a recent wildfire along the way. It was plenty sobering: charred spots big and small along both sides of the divided highway, huge tracts charred within 30 yards of housing developments. The people in those houses dodged disaster.

    Our area doesn’t have the big undeveloped areas, but there are valleys full of dry brush ready to feed flames. Fires are less likely for us, but definitely a possibility.

    Several years ago we drove through the south suburbs of Pocatello after a wildfire nearly destroyed my DW’s cousin’s daughter’s house. She had ten minutes to evacuate. Luckily the road acted as a firebreak, saving their house. However, every house across the road was destroyed: nothing for over a mile left but foundations, chimneys, and stumps.

    People in wildfire areas need to prepare for them, both with insurance and by clearing debris. If building a house or doing major work, doing everything possible to make it fire resistant. it’s my understanding that the undersides of eves are particularly vulnerable.

    DW and I are going to be pretty incommunicado for the next few weeks. Some Internet access, but not much. Bc Truck an’ his Grandma will have to do without. Enjoy the respite, folks!

  17. Thank you everyone for your feedback. I really appreciate everyone’s comments. When we moved here I did speak with my in laws about creating a 100 yard zone around the house and clearing the brush and trees. Both of them did not want any work done even though I offered to start the process. They have lived here for almost 25 years and have done little to improve the property. Good news is that my wife and I learned about areas where we need to improve upon.

  18. Encourager says:

    So sorry for your losses! I am wondering about State Farm having to use an adjuster that was so very far away from you. Arizona? With you in eastern Washington? That is ridiculous! Follow the advice of people above and contact the company. Something does not seem right.

    We have State Farm Insurance. Twice, once in 1999 and once in 2002 we had damage to our home due to severe storms. They were classified as a “Catastrophic Event” by State Farm. They brought in extra agents to handle all the claims and the agent we were assigned to was very good. She took pictures and we had a check in hand in days. Also these claims did not affect our rates due to the catastrophic nature of the events. Now, I realize that was quite a while ago. We work closely with our current agent who used to be a claims adjuster in the main office here in Michigan. He is on top of things, at least we think he is. But I think I am going to make a phone call on Monday.

    Thanks for the article. This type of info and personal experience is helpful to all in the Pack.

  19. Chuck Findlay says:

    Now that the fire has happened you may be able to stretch the brush clean up out a bit to give your home more protection.

  20. Thanks for the heads up on State Farm. I was recently canceled by Travelers after inquiring about a claim for a leaking pipe. Told they would replace ruined property (there was none) but didn’t do anything for repairs to the plumbing. I asked a lawyer friend which company was best and he held out his crossed hands. Then he said it means give me your money and that they are all crooks.

  21. mom of three says:

    We live up by the boarder of Canada, and our city banned fireworks in 2014, and a few smaller town’s are only allowing on the 4th. I’m only watering plant’s our grass has gone to brown. I hate to be a complainer but I want our rain back:)

    • Chuck Findlay says:

      All day rain today (in Toledo) and it’s been raining about every other day for months. I wish I could send some of it to you as we have WAY too much…

  22. Thanks for sharing your misfortune, for the benefit of all of us. My property in the Sierras is currently at great risk due to the California drought and a huge overgrowth due to late spring rains. Dead pines fill my property. Now with temps reaching record heat, we are all just waiting for the fires.

    But your account is valuable beyond just preparing for fires. Life is full of “fires.” My own was an unexpected change in health that turned my survival plans upside down. Everything was based on my ability to physically respond. Then God was pleased to take my health away. Suddenly my plans were next to useless. But what I found was that it is the mental preparations we make are always at hand. In your case, your tough survival attitude has resulted in you being able to carry on, in spite of the losses.

  23. I’m very sorry to hear about your home and the damages. I’m also sorry to hear about the insurance issues. While I can’t speak directly to your situation, I want to advise everyone here to make sure you keep the policy updated. Homeowners policies are specific to location. When you move, you need a new policy for the new location. I’m an insurance broker and I don’t represent State Farm, so I can’t speak to your situation, but I do understand your frustration. Also, regarding the insurance to value some folks brought up, just to give the other side of the coin argument, too many times insureds have successfully sued insurance companies and agents for under insuring a home, regardless of what the insured originally wanted the home insured for. I’m from the opinion one should be able to insure the home for what they see fit, but I also understand the insurance company’s side of making sure they protect themselves from lawsuits. By no means is my intent to defend the insurance industry and specifically with this State Farm claim, more it’s to encourage you all to have a knowledgeable local agent who will take the time to review policies with you, offer proper coverage and overall not act like a sales person. Again, not saying that was or wasn’t the case in your scenario. In general, many more times than not, the agent in how they write the policy will determine how the claim goes. The policy is definately not a one size fits all.

    I don’t write business in Washington, so this is not a sales ploy, but if you wish to contact me. I would be happy to offer any assistance I can regarding your claim. At the very least you can bounce questions off me and I can try to help in any way possible. This site has been a blessing to me and i am happy to help others on this site in any way I can.

  24. I forgot to add. MD, you have my permission to give the original poster my email. Thank you.

  25. Eccentric says:

    Love the comments by PTSnodgrass and some others. I think it might be a good idea to keep a box of start ups in a totally separate location. You might keep a few boxes for someone else in a reciprocal arrangement. Having clothing that fits which could be sent by UPS.

  26. victor fox says:

    Hell man. I,m sad to know these news… Fortunatedly, things weren,t worse.

    I strongly advise everyone in every aspect to always have a lawyer check all The papers and policies before we sign and have then point The weak links… They can help sabe our bacon even if their fees can be high.

    Wish you The Best God bless.

Before commenting, please read my Comments Policy - thanks!