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Attorneys Fight WA Wildfires with Free Assistance

PHOTO: Aerial view of Taylor Bridge Fire damage. Courtesy of Washington Dept. of Transportation.
PHOTO: Aerial view of Taylor Bridge Fire damage. Courtesy of Washington Dept. of Transportation.
August 28, 2012

ELLENSBURG, Wash. - Sometimes you need more than a fire crew to make it through a fire. You might even need an attorney. About 50 members of the Washington State Association for Justice (WSAJ) have offered to assist people affected by the massive Taylor Bridge Fire, southeast of Seattle in Kittitas County near Cle Elum, free of charge.

So far, says Jon Ferguson of Ellensburg, a volunteer attorney and WSAJ member, many homeowners have questions about how to deal with insurance companies – and more than a few don't have insurance.

"One of the things we try to do is to ensure that if we're not the last person somebody talks to, we're the next-to-the-last person: we will find the right person for them to talk to. Some of the people, we've been walking over to community mental health services, because it's very, very hard right now for them to hold things together."

Ferguson says contractors are already canvassing the area offering cleanup services, and not all are legitimate, so it's important to make sure they are registered with the state.

The volunteer attorneys also are recommending that people record videos of their homes, even if they have burned down or been badly damaged, describing what was in the rooms or the garage, where the fence line was, and other details. It's important to make a record while the memories are fresh, explains Ferguson.

"We're not suggesting that this is something that the insurance companies will just accept and say, 'Okay, you had these things.' But we think it's going to be a good record for the folks of what they've lost, and also a good record of the destruction and the kind of damage that's been done. And both those things I think will be useful for them as they go farther in this process."

He adds people often don't think about damage that is harder to spot, such as melted pipes, wires and insulation. He cautions homeowners not to accept insurance settlements too quickly, and to have their own inspection if they are concerned that the adjustor might miss something.

The Taylor Bridge Fire has destroyed more than 50 houses and damaged hundreds of others. Damage is estimated to top $8 million. It is expected to be contained by Wednesday. Fire updates are online at inciweb.org.

The WSAJ website, with information on finding a volunteer attorney, is washingtonjustice.org.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA