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Boulder County couple whose house was “infused” with pollutants in Marshall Fire wishes it had burned down

Boulder County couple whose house was “infused” with pollutants in Marshall Fire wishes it had burned down

Colorado’s insurance commissioner says the state needs standards for remediating homes that are damaged, but not destroyed in wildfires.

Hundreds of homes were damaged by toxic smoke, soot and ash from the Marshall Fire but, because there are no standards for wildfire remediation, homeowners like Peter and Lanene Dente are at the mercy of their insurers.

When they fled their home on the day of the fire, they figured it would be a miracle if it survived. The next day, they returned to an island in a sea of ash.

“When we rounded the corner…we could not believe what we saw,” Lanene said.

They couldn’t believe their luck, at first. Then they learned that their house, while still standing, wasn’t safe. 

“The wind was coming at this house easily at 80-100 miles an hour. It infused it infused everything in the house under pressure with smoke, soot, ash, char, and all contaminants that had burned,” Peter said.

The couple says an industrial hygienist found contaminants in everything from the wood framing of the house to the concrete foundation.

“The only recommendation she has is to rip it out and replace it,” Peter said. 

Their insurance company, he says, had a different idea.

“It was vacuumed, wipe, seal with shellac, painted over and you’re good to go,” he said. 

Almost 16 months after the fire, they still haven’t moved back because of concerns about contamination and the integrity of their house due to heat damage.

Ask them if they’re lucky today, you get a different answer.

“No absolutely not. We are not lucky,” the couple expressed. 

Colorado insurance commissioner, Mike Conway says he’s heard from hundreds of homeowners like the Dentes, whose idea of clean and safe is different than that of their insurance company’s. 

Right now, there’s no standard anywhere in the country. 

“We have to find a solution here. The status quo isn’t working,” Conway said.  

He says, in health care, when a patient’s idea of what’s medically necessary conflicts with their insurer’s, they can appeal to an independent third party. 

The same process, he says, could help in homeowner insurance disputes with the right standards guiding decisions.

“If these standards whatever standards are say house has be torn down for person safely live in then that’s what should happen right? That’s why have insurance coverage. It can’t be the case that we’re not doing the right thing for homes just for because we’re worried about a premium impact,” he said. 

For now, the Dentes say there is no good option.

“Honestly Shaun, I don’t know what we’re going to do,” Peter says. “We’ve often told ourselves we would much rather have lost everything had house burned down,” Dentes said.   

A bill making its way through the legislature requires landlords to follow industry best practices for restoration. 

However, those practices dictate how to clean a property but not what qualifies as clean. Conway is determined to find a solution.