Beginning July 29, 2010, the Crown Fire near Palmdale, California, raged for more than five days, burning brush of approximately 14,000 square acres. Although approximately 2,300 structures were threatened, luckily, only four homes and five outbuildings were completely destroyed by the fire.

The Crown Fire forced evacuations of over 2,000 homes in the area. Unbeknownst to many homeowners with active homeowner’s policies, these homeowners have substantial claims with their insurance companies for damages caused by smoke, soot and ash.

Smoke, soot and ash may cause hefty property damage, ranging from a few thousand dollars all the way to tens of thousands of dollars, when a structure is contaminated by the debris in the roof, chimneys, fireplaces, pools and their pumps, attic insulation and air conditioning and heating ducts.

Policyholders are entitled to costs incurred in the clean up, painting, and remediation of damages caused by the smoke and ash to the home itself and the property within. Ash and soot can be very fine and have the ability to travel through air into pipes and between walls, on carpets and clothing. They can cause illness due to the composition of chemicals that are acidic and may eat away at what they settle on.

Many insurance policies in California are drafted to require that a claim or lawsuit must be made within one year of the date of incident. Many Californians will find that their rights are forfeited if they do not bring their claims on or before July 29, 2011.