From the wildfires burning out of control in Colorado to the gas explosion that incinerated whole streets in California, fire damage seems to get more attention lately than the three tropical systems in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. Many associations have dealt with fires in one way or another. Whether it’s a grease fire in a kitchen or a blazing roof fire caused by a lightening strike, fires can cause millions of dollars of damage in a relatively short period of time.

Luckily for you, insurance policies cover fire damage. That being said, fire insurance claims can be very tricky if the proper work is not done before the loss. Many fire claims involve substantial, or even total, losses to buildings and contents alike. Problems can arise when associations attempt to create a contents list from memory with out documentation to help support the loss.

One of the first things an association must do after a fire loss, is create a list of all of the association property that was damaged or destroyed by the fire. In the event of a large or total loss, all that may be left is a pile of debris. Water used to put out the fire will spread the debris over a much larger area, and many items will be unrecognizable or lost forever. Because of this, contents lists can be incomplete or hard to prove to an insurer. A little work before the loss, however, can relieve the stresses of the contents claim and help the process move along more quickly.

First, every association should document the association property thoroughly before a loss occurs. Start now, making a contents list of items, their age, their value, and their location. If you have a receipt for the item, keep that receipt with the contents list so it can be easily located in the event of a loss.

Pictures or video can be very helpful as well. If possible, take the time to document each item on the contents list with a video or picture showing the item and the location inside the property.

Contents lists should be kept current and updated frequently. If a new item is purchased, add it to the list and take steps to document the property. If something is lost or discarded, make sure to delete it immediately from the overall list to avoid any confusion later.

While it is a lot of work to keep up with all of the association’s property, receipts, and other documentation, there are few things more difficult than trying to re-create a contents list from memory for a large property. Taking these steps on the front end will allow you to provide all the necessary information to the insurance company’s adjuster on his initial visit and will move the claim along much faster.