(AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

South Africa has seen an increase in the severity of devastating fires over the past few years, which have caused property destruction that can be financially crippling if one is not properly insured.

Jannet Ferguson, General Manager: Personal Lines and Underwriting Management Agency at Absa Insurance, says that the number of catastrophic fires resulting in widespread personal property loss has increased.

“Who would have thought that Knysna would have burnt to the extent that it did? Then there are also the examples of St Francis Bay, and the recent disaster in Betty’s Bay where numerous homes were lost,” says Ferguson.

“In winter we see an increase in the number of building fires, as people are trying to keep warm. People should be cautious when using candles or heaters. These types of fire-related claims reduce during the summer months.”

Ferguson advises homeowners to follow these tips to ensure they are adequately insured against fire damage:

Make sure your home is insured for replacement value, not market value. The market value could be less than the rebuild cost.

Check to see if your rent for another property will be covered if your house burns down

If you rent the property out, find out if your insurance covers lost rental income

Ask if the cost of the fire brigade has been covered

Make sure all professional fees are covered – such as the cost of the architect and engineer

Confirm whether your expensive fixtures and fittings have been taken into account in calculating the cost of your home

Many people take out the minimum contents cover but you should get the inventory list from your insurer, and write down a value to get an idea of what you should be insured for. Do this exercise every two years

Ensure that any expensive art has been insured

Ensure that the buildings are valued by a professional

Review your policy regularly

“Make sure that your electricity compliance certificate is current, most fires relate to electricity issues. During load shedding or electrical disruption ensure all electrical appliances such as irons, heaters, hair dryers or tongs are switched off to avoid the possibility of causing a fire once the power returns.”

When it comes to business premises and fires, Ferguson says buildings machinery should be professionally valued, and that business interruption cover be in place. “Most importantly, talk to a broker to ensure you have ticked all your boxes.”

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