Tips on working with FEMA for an insurance claim after a disaster?

I’ve been seeing a lot of media around the fact that FEMA actually accepts very few claims, very few claims are approved, and some folks have difficulty producing documents or getting a reasonable claim on lost property.

I live in a wildfire prone state.  Up until a year ago I would have said I wasn’t in a wildfire prone neighborhood, but the east suburbs of Portland, OR ended up with a fire close enough and big enough to take out some property and caused a large evacuation area. I live in the west suburbs so this felt like a close call.

So it got me thinking about how I would rebuild after a fire.  I have homeowner’s insurance I am going to look closely at, but I’m not sure yet if it would pay out if I lost my house to a wildfire.

Does anyone have the inside scoop on FEMA, getting through the process, documents needed, common errors, what kind of reimbursement to expect, etc?


  • Comments (11)

    • 4

      I didn’t know that FEMA offered individual aid and claims. 

      I decided to look into it though, cause you never can have too many resources after a disaster right??, and found that you select the disaster you were affected by (for example I selected the California French Fire) And then it looks like there is a list of State & Local and National recovery resources.


      So already, you have a large list of organizations and places that can help you rebuild. And then if you scroll further down the page there is a funding obligations section, which I believe is the FEMA aid that you are looking for. In this particular case, it says funding isn’t available at the moment. Probably because it just happened. But that would tell you some of the requirements that would be needed I suppose.

      They’ve given out $21 Billion dollars in assistance in 2021 so far though, so it doesn’t sound like it’s too hard to get approved for something with that much money.

    • 4

      I’m not sure about FEMA specifically because our fire was not a wild fire (bad wiring), but if you have to make an insurance claim following a house fire, you want to get a good private adjustor ASAP. Super long story, but if we’d immediately hired a private adjustor, we would have been back home six months soonerthan we will be as it stands. 

      You also want to document any nicer things that you own- not just your tv, but jackets, art supplies, pots, anything you have to replace. The more information you have, the harder it will be for insurance to refuse your claim. If your house burns down completely, you won’t have evidence that you own anything you own unless you take lots of photos/videos now. 

      Also good to look at your ALE (adjusted living expenses) on your insurance. That’s what would pay for boarding animals, renting a hotel or apartment, temporary furniture, etc. You will probably need more than you think you will. 

      Again, not sure about FEMA specifically, but expect insurance to do everything they can to not pay you. Also, if your house is partially burnt, always get a second opinion if they say it’s safe to move back in. We moved back with a very unstable supporting beam and all got poisoning from the smoke they didn’t actually clean up after a few days. 

      Hope y’all stay safe!!

      • 3

        Thank you for letting me know about the ALE. I don’t know if we have that coverage and I will look into that now.

    • 4

      Good morning Courtney,

      I’m conversant in one aspect re the inside scoop.

      If you already have insurance, it is deductable amount from number D.C. / FEMA (actually DHS gets the Congressional appropriation; not FEMA). Publicly-mentioned numbers are not to relied on.

      Recommend minimize sedative use; avoid public sector.

      Recommend follow Kira’s advice: “a good private adjustor”.

      Anticipate not obtaining any FEMA funds.

      • 2

        “Anticipate not obtaining any FEMA funds.” 

        Yeah, that’s my concern. I’m not counting on it, but after an earthquake or fire loss, I want to have the ability to start to make a claim, ASAP to be ready to get a jump on others.  FEMA has a history of claim rejection for technicalities.

        I was thinking about this after a major wildfire loss in the cities of Talent and (ironically) Phoenix in Oregon last year.  Once the fire was out, they opened up the neighborhoods to residents only ( to avoid looting and looky-loos) and some folks couldn’t get in to see the damage because they didn’t evacuate with any proof of residency.

    • 3

      Hello Courtney,

      After one fire evacuation, I did an insurance checkup with my agent and went through loss scenarios. One of the surprising lessons was that moving earth from mud slides which are common after wildfires even far from the actual fire cannot be covered. No option exists in SoCal probably based on the large losses of both property and life in earlier fires . Same if the earth is from a collapsed retaining wall (~3ft from my house). Earthquake insurance doesn’t kick in either unless it was triggered by seismic activity. It’s an un-fillable gap in coverage.  The agent supported having a full home inventory complete with details (brand, model numbers, etc) and videos/photos (that I had started and seen confirmed here). So as Kira put so well, you must be your best advocate and before an event is the time to start.  

      • 2

        There are so many loopholes and things you have to dive down deep to know about your insurance policy that isn’t on the front page in bold letters. Kind of frustrating, and I’m sure even if you studied out your full policy and all their fine print, it will change month to month.

      • 3

        I started researching insurance again after a notice about a change in coverage removing sewer backups.  It’s like an never ending process.

    • 2

      Unfortunately I don’t, but I was doing some research on wildfires today and came across this website, in case it’s helpful https://www.disasterassistance.gov/

      • 2

        Good morning Carlotta,

        At above provided link, just read the emergency sheltering section. The section was last updated 25 August 2020.

        It can still be dangerous to join others in a “congragate” environment of cots on school gym floor. Remember, those with weakened immune systems are in danger of immediatly getting infected – snd it might not be fom COVID-19 or one of the variants.  It could be TB, flu, ets.

        The 2021 Fed recommendation to the states is to use “non-congragate” sheltering like public sector provided motel rooms, dorms, etc. The Feds expect the states to fund with only little Fed $.  Of course with so much of our population already relying on Fed $, it is a little irrelevant.

        Recommend avoid public emergency shelters if realistic to do so.

    • 3

      Thanks all!  Lots to think about here.