Categorized | Insurance

Not So Friendly Fires

Some cities just can’t get a break. After enduring the Waldo Canyon fire a year ago, Colorado Springs is battling another wildfire. This year’s blaze, which has been dubbed the Black Forest fire, now appears to be under control. According to the Huffington Post, the fire has caused two deaths and destroyed at least 500 homes. The cause of the fire is unknown. Last year’s Waldo Canyon fire broke out on June 23 and burned for more than two weeks. It caused two deaths and destroyed 346 homes.


Meanwhile, another wildfire is burning in California near Yosemite National Park in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. This fire was started by an unattended campfire. Smokey the Bear, where are you? Smokey should chastise these negligent campers. They certainly could have prevented this forest fire!

I gained some insight into how destructive fire can be during the Oakland Firestorm in 1991. It was Sunday around noon when I arrived at my parents’ home, located a few miles from where the fire had originated. No one was home. After phoning my parents I grabbed a garden hose and began wetting down their wood shake roof. As I stood holding the hose, balls of fire roared down the canyon nearby. Several homes were on fire. Burning telephone poles made booming sounds as their transformers exploded. Smoke blocked out the sun and the air was thick with soot. My parents were lucky. The flames came within about a quarter of a mile from their house.

In the insurance industry fires are either friendly or hostile. A friendly fire is one that is set on purpose and that remains in the place intended, such as a fireplace or stove. A fire becomes hostile when it escapes from its intended location. For example, a fire travels from a restaurant stove to the roof of the building. Property insurance is designed to cover damage caused by hostile fires. However, most policies use the word “fire” without any distinction between friendly and hostile.

Fire insurance was developed in London after the Great Fire of 1666. Yet, it didn’t really catch on in the United States until stock insurance companies were formed in the 1790s. The availability of fire insurance increased throughout the nineteenth century. However, buyers couldn’t be sure what they were getting because fire policies lacked consistency. A policy from one carrier could bear little resemblance to a policy offered by another. That began to change in 1880 when the state of New York adopted a standard fire policy. The policy eventually became mandatory in all states.

The New York Standard Fire Policy was last revised in 1943. The 1943 version was included in commercial property policies until the 1980s, when property forms were simplified. If you think your property policy is confusing, try reading the 165-line 1943 fire policy! Your eyes will glaze over after the first few lines.

Speaking of property policies, does your firm’s policy include Building Ordinance coverage? If a building your company owns is damaged, local building ordinances can substantially increase your reconstruction costs. Learn about Building Ordinance coverage in my new article.

Image courtesy of [nokhoog_buchachon ] /

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