California Fires

Let’s begin with a simple admission: we’re heartbroken to be writing this post. Just about a year ago, in October 2017, we first wrote about the California wildfires that were ravaging the state.

This year, the wildfires are back with a vengeance — the 2018 California fires have been nothing short of devastating. According to the New York Times, the Camp Fire is has been the deadliest and most destructive fire in California’s recent history. While containment efforts on the Woolsey Fire have gone better of late, it’s been brutal too.

There are a million different things to think about in times like these, not the least of which is, “how will we recover?”

Like all natural disasters — be it a storm, a tornado, or something else — construction will play a huge part in restoring the communities affected. This is also true for those affected by the latest rash of California wildfires. At some point in the recovery process, when the time is right and those involved are ready for it, the main thrust of the effort will turn towards rebuilding. And that’s where the construction industry comes in.

That being said, there are plenty of considerations construction businesses should keep in mind in times like these.

The Playbook for Disaster Recovery Construction Projects

We wrote an article – the Playbook for Disaster Recovery – to help in situations just like the one that’s unfolding in California. No matter the disaster and no matter the location, there are a lot of similarities for owners and construction businesses in times of recovery and rebuilding. However, there will always be some state-specific considerations to keep an eye on.

Read Now: The Playbook for Disaster Recovery Construction Projects

Below are some of the California specifics to keep in mind during wildfire recovery.

Recovering from the California Wildfires

How Insurance may Impact Getting Paid for Rebuilding Work

Unlike the water-damaged homes of Houston, most people affected by these wildfires should be covered by insurance.

For those affected, this will hopefully soften the blow somewhat. But, the involvement of insurance can create some issues with construction payments. What’s more, insurance proceeds are not likely to cover the full cost of recovery, and contractor fraud following disasters is a fairly common occurrence.

The disaster playbook article speaks more to the intersection of disaster recovery work and insurance. But here are a few tips for California property owners (and the construction companies they hire during the recovery) that will help the rebuilding work go a little smoother:

  • Take pictures of the damage and anything that is recognizable in the debris.
  • If you did not document some possessions before the fires, track down photos on your phone or social media accounts that could help support your insurance claims for the undocumented items.
  • Contact your insurance provider immediately – even if you don’t have all of your documentation together, put the provider on notice of your impending claim as soon as possible.

Licensure Requirements for Contractors Working in California

In California, it’s imperative that someone providing construction work is licensed, if and when licensure is required.

Here are a couple of posts that can help with licensure requirements in California:

Take note, however, that licensing requirements are regularly relaxed to aid rebuilding efforts following major natural disasters. Considering the state of the housing crisis and labor shortage, I would be shocked if licensure requirements weren’t relaxed to some degree.

Send Notices to Prevent Payment Problems (and prepare for them, too)

For those performing construction or demolition work in California, it’s important to send a preliminary notice (also called a “20 Day Preliminary Notice”). Many people refer to these as “pre-lien” notices, but we think that misses the point. By sending notice, those performing work can actually avoid payment disputes by improving communication and visibility on the job. Plus, if a project does go sideways, notice will be an important prerequisite to securing payment for your services.

Admittedly, payment disputes are the last thing people want to think about when doing recovery work. But, if the construction business rebuilding these communities aren’t paid, they won’t be able to continue to service Californians.

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Other Issues That Might Impact the Recovery Work

Construction Labor Shortage

Nationwide, there has been an acute shortage of skilled labor in the construction industry. We’ve written a couple of posts on the subject, actually:

It appears that the shortage in California could be a very serious hurdle to rebuilding, as outlined by the SF Gate during last year’s fires. While workers from other areas often flock to disaster-stricken areas to provide their services, the number of construction firms available will serve as a bottleneck.

California Housing Crisis

The issues faced during recovery will be exacerbated by the California Housing Crisis. Affordable housing was hard to come by before the wildfires. With so many displaced, the issue will only get worse.

On one hand, California passed a number of affordable housing measures last year aimed at alleviating the housing shortage. On the other hand, these measures typically help in the long run – the relatively new provisions won’t provide immediate relief to those displaced.

CNN posted this article in late October discussing how the housing crunch has been exacerbated by these wildfires: They survived the California fires. Now, the crisis is finding housing.

Unfortunately, a lot of this post was pretty bleak. So let’s try to leave it on an uplifting note…

Good News and Other Resources

California Inmate Firefighters Making A Difference

The New York Times recently published this article highlighting the efforts of incarcerated men and women doing their part to fight California fires. Through a work program, inmates train to fight fires and get paid a nominal amount to combat the flames.

Volunteers Going Above And Beyond

There are countless stories of people going above and beyond in this time of need. One of these was recently shared by the Sacramento Bee – Displaced by Camp Fire, doctors and nurses open makeshift clinic for victims. As Bee reports, a small team of volunteers at a Chico church has blossomed into a makeshift pop-up shelter.

Stories of animal rescue have also been popping up. This story from KOAA News 5 discusses the efforts of rescuers working day and night to service the animals that have been affected by the fires.

Finally, if you want to volunteer or donate yourself, here are a few articles detailing how best to help the efforts in California:

How you can help victims of the Camp Fire (Sacramento Bee)

19 things you can do to help California wildfire victims right now (Fast Company)

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Recovering from the California Fires: What Contractors Need to Know
Important information and resources for the property owners affected by the California fires and the contractors that will help them rebuild and recover [updated Nov. 2018].
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