One year after East Troublesome Fire, dozens still waiting on insurance payments

Homeowner: Payments only half what contents worth
east troublesome fire insurance
Posted at 3:34 PM, Oct 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-16 00:59:30-04

GRAND COUNTY, Colo. — Shelly Olson has made the painful trek through the mud and charred debris on a Grand County mountainside too many times to count.

“I guess I never really even appreciated how wonderful it was until it was gone,” said Olson.

Nearly a year after the East Troublesome Fire ripped through Grand County, Olson is still finding seared keepsakes on the property where her beautiful mountain home once stood.

“Oh, look at this. A hummingbird. I’m going to keep this,” Olson said as she picked up a scorched, but still recognizable, ceramic hummingbird.

The fire destroyed 366 homes last October, a fire so big – with winds so fierce – it jumped the Continental Divide.

“There were trees falling on cars as people were evacuating through (Rocky Mountain National Park),” said Olson, who is a fire information officer for Granby Fire. She’s one of nine first responders who lost their homes in the East Troublesome Fire.

READ MORE: The untold stories of resilience and recovery in Grand Lake after the East Troublesome Fire

According to the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association, insurance losses from the fire totaled $543 million, putting East Troublesome well above the Waldo Canyon and Black Forest fires as the most costly and destructive in Colorado history.

When the fire exploded in size on the night of Oct. 21, Olson’s husband was home.

“He could hear, like a freight train sound,” she said. “Someone else, over here, described it as a fleet of helicopters.”

The fire moved so quickly many had little-to-no time to grab much of anything, including Olson’s husband.

“He loaded up the dog and left,” Olson said. “He did not grab anything. He did not have time to get a photo album, a scrapbook, nothing.”

For the Olsons and hundreds of others, the past year has been a juggling act between trying to find a temporary place to live, deciding whether to rebuild or move on and dealing with insurance companies.

“People will tell you it’s trauma all over again,” Olson said. “And sometimes it’s even worse than the original trauma they’ve gone through.”

Even though Olson says her insurance company, American Family, has been good – it’s still a constant battle.

“Half of the personal contents they paid for,” Olson said. “You have to do an inventory list for that last 50%, so that’s the last hurdle. Hopefully, that will go smoothly. It’s the same story whether it’s California, Oregon or here. If you’re insured for a certain amount of money for your personal belongings, and that’s the policy you have, shouldn’t you be paid for those things?”

Sadly, it’s not always that simple, so offers these tips for wildfire insurance coverage:

  • Contact your agent and make sure your coverage accurately reflects your home’s square footage and contents.
  • Know what your policy covers. The details matter a lot.
  • Update your policy to cover any recent home improvements to include countertops, floors, bathroom remodels, etc.
  • Maintain insurance even if your home is paid off.
  • Get renters insurance if you’re renting.
  • Make a home inventory. Take videos of every closet, every drawer, even the garage. Also, narrate, if you can, where you bought items and what you paid for them, so you have an adequate record.

“In many cases, it has not been enough,” Olson said.

And while it’s true that insurance can never replace everything, it’s better to be overprepared.

“I can never get back the pictures that my daughters drew, the little story book that they wrote,” Olson said. “But you can avoid a lot of headaches by knowing your insurance coverage.”

Olson suggests talking to your agent right away.

“Go to your insurance agent and say, ‘If this was gone tomorrow, complete loss, what does my policy say?” Olson said.