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Advice in Wake of Wildfires


Advice in Wake of Wildfires

By Zack McDowel,

Everyone here in California is hoping and praying that the predictions are correct and El Nino will come this winter and save us from our drought. As a resident and native Californian, I know all too well the inconveniences this four year dry spell has brought us. The unwashed vehicle, lightning fast showers we are forced to take and the unsightly dead lawns. While these things are quite the annoyance, some Californians have suffered real and significant hardships.

Because of this drought, California has experienced a jaw-dropping amount of wildfires this summer. Some only burning a few acres, but some burning thousands. And included in those thousands of acres were people’s homes and property. I know how difficult this time can be for someone whose house and property is damaged or destroyed by fire. A relative’s home was badly damaged in a fire. Having a general contractor in the family made it easy for him to find someone he could trust in the rebuilding process. 

Unfortunately, not all contractors have your best interest in mind and are only there to take advantage of the situation. There are things you should keep in mind when searching for a contractor. Your Better Business Bureau offers the following advice to people who suffer property damage caused by a wildfire:

Be Cautious If…

• A worker shows up on your doorstep to announce that your home is unsafe.  If you are concerned about possible structural damage in your home, have an engineer, architect or building official inspect it. 

• Someone is offering to repair or rebuild your property with a deal that sounds too good to be true.

• A worker shows up on your doorstep and claims to have left-over materials from a job “down the street”.

• A worker claims to be FEMA certified -   FEMA does not certify general contractors in any state.

Someone contacts you to solicit personal information such as Social Security or bank account numbers.

Good Advice When You Need It…

• Don’t rush into decisions and don’t automatically hire the first contractor who comes along.

• Check with your insurance company about policy coverage and specific filing requirements. Save all receipts, including those for food, temporary lodging, or other expenses that may be covered under your policy.

• Although you may be anxious to get things back to normal, avoid letting your emotions get the better of you. Don’t be pressured into making an immediate decision with a long-term impact. Be proactive in selecting a business and not reactive to sales solicitations. Make temporary repairs if necessary. 

• For major repairs, take time to shop around and get three estimates based on the same specifications and materials. Check out references, verify licenses with the Contractors State Licensing Board – and read the company’s BBB Business Review at 

• Contractors working on a job—from debris removal to rebuilding—totaling $500 or more for labor and materials must be licensed by CSLB.

• Make sure you get a written contract from anyone you hire. It should specify the work to be done, the materials to be used and the price breakdown for both labor and materials. Any promises made orally should be written into the contract, including warranties on materials or labor. Be sure their name, address, license number and phone number along with a start and end date for the work are included in the contract. Read and understand the contract in its entirety and don’t sign a blank contract. A copy of the signed contract is to be given to you when you sign.

• Never pay full price in advance and do not pay cash. Establish a payment schedule. Do not make a final payment until you are satisfied with the completed work.  CSLB rules require no more than 10 percent down or $1,000 - whichever is less when you sign a contract.  Don’t let the payments get ahead of the work.

• Monitor the progress of the project and keep a paper trail of all documents.

There are many licensed, trustworthy contractors that are local.  For lists of BBB Accredited Businesses by industry visit or call 510.844.2000.