Burned Out in the California Hills

Home Insurance

Burned Out in the California Hills

Paul Kassel was among the hundreds who lost their homes last fall in the firestorms north of San Diego. -- <b>As told to Walter G. Meyer</b>

How did you get the word to evacuate? At three thirty in the morning, I got a call from my brother Dan, who lives about five miles away. He said, "The flames are right there. You'd better get out." We took 15 minutes to gather up a few things, thinking we'd be right back.


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You were prepared? We were the poster children for the fire department on how to clear the brush around your house. I came back expecting that our house would still be there because we had worked so hard on clearing. But the fire came down a hill and started creating its own wind tunnel. A firestorm has the sense of an atom bomb. It knocked a giant tree over.

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So the house burned? When I called the house and got a busy signal, I knew that was a bad sign. Then at about two in the afternoon, I went back with my son. There was a dead deer right in front of our gate. We just started crying.

Another brother lost his house in a previous fire? Dave's house was destroyed four years ago in the Cedar Fire that wiped out 1,500 houses in the San Diego area. Because of Dave's experience and advice -- we called it nagging -- to make sure that we were protected in every way and ready to evacuate, we were better prepared than most.


You had plenty of insurance? On Dave's advice I shopped around and ended up with Chubb Personal Insurance. With the numbers Dave told me to make sure I had -- I paid $3,200 a year in premiums -- the company hasn't even suggested that it will not fulfill my policy. Chubb's adjuster said, "Mr. Kassel, I'm sorry to tell you this, but your house is a total loss." And I said, "No kidding."

How long will it take to rebuild? About two years. With design, demolition and site work, I figure they won't start for six months.

How much was the house worth? Approximately $3-million-plus. It was built in 1999 for former baseball player Howard Johnson. We have not yet determined the value of the contents -- maybe $800,000 to $900,000. I lost my whole baseball collection. I know it's just a baseball collection, but I can't get back Mickey Mantle's last jersey.

Really? Mickey Mantle's last jersey? Signed and framed.

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