SPANISH FORK – Evacuated because of the Pole Creek and Bald Mountain wildfires over the summer, the owner of a Utah County assisted living facility says his insurance company denied his claim because the flames weren't 2,660 feet closer.
Chris Hermansen, who owns the Elk Ridge Assisted Living center, remembers the day he gathered the people in his care and fled from his business, not knowing what would happen.
It was Sunday, Sept. 13, and like everyone else in town, the residents of the assisted living center were told to leave because the Pole Creek Fire, which had been sparked by lightning a week earlier, was spreading.
"We up and evacuated. I got two buses and we evacuated as soon as we could. It was mandatory. You had to leave," he said.
In all, 28 residents were evacuated and stayed at the Quality Inn in Payson for nine days.
Hermansen says when you count the cost of rooms, salaries for extra staff to take care of residents, and all the little extra supplies that were needed, it cost him about $17,000 out of pocket.
"I contacted my insurance company and they said, 'Your insurance (policy) should cover this. You have a big policy, it should cover it if the fire is within a mile of the building,'" said Hermansen.
However, that distance designation is the trick.
Hermansen says his insurance company denied him because he was 2,660 feet too far from the fire line, where he would have been covered. That's just over a half mile.
"I've paid religiously on that policy and now when I actually need it?" said Hermansen, shaking his head.
Representatives from Hermansen's insurance company, Security Insurance out of Spanish Fork, said the matter was out of their hands and that it wasn't the company who actually denied his claim.
Security Insurance referred calls to Auto-Owner Insurance Company in Draper because Auto-Owner actually holds the policy. A spokesperson for Auto-Owners based in the company's corporate office in Michigan relayed a message to Scott Michael, a vice president in marketing and sales for the company. who replied by email.
"We have explained to Mr. Hermansen, Elk Ridge Assisted Living's insurance policy states that damage to property from a covered cause of loss must be within one mile of the premise in order to be eligible to cover his claim. This is standard policy language," Michael said in the email.
Hermansen said he understands rules and regulations, but he also said that because he runs the only business in Elk Ridge, he was the only one who was denied insurance claims.4 comments on this story
"Unfortunately, I'm the only business up here and my business policy is different than a homeowners policy," he said. "I still couldn't have said, 'Oh wait, everyone. I have to wait until this thing is this close before I can leave.' Plus, I wouldn't have done it based on a policy anyway."
Despite the bill, he's happy the evacuation went well and no one was hurt.
"I hope this will never happen again, but it had the best outcome possible. Everyone is safe and taken care of and they're back home," Hermansen said. "My goal has always been, I want to treat these people like I would treat my mom and dad or my grandma and grandpa."
A GoFundMe page has been set up for Hermansen.