I received the following email a few days ago. It is a really sad story about how insurance companies can take us all for a ride, straw bale or no straw bale. The owners of the nearly complete straw bale home need an attorney’s help to battle their insurance company who is refusing to pay out for damages after a non straw bale related fire destroyed their home. There are important lessons to be learned in this sad story. Please read on and if you are an attorney who wants to help, please let us know by commenting on this post. I will put you in touch with the owners. Thanks in advance
Hi Andrew – At the end of February, our 80% complete straw bale/steel frame home burned to the ground. There was a propane tank leak, and it didn’t take long for the air to catch fire. Of course most people would like to blame the straw; however, there is little evidence of this being the problem. After the fire, there was tons and tons of piles of straw that did not burn. In fact, right next to where a very thick steel I-Beam twisted under the heat of the fire, lay clean bales with just one scorched side. I was quite surprised how well the straw held up to the heat, while the OSB SIP panel roof and the wood floor trusses completely disappeared.
I am writing to tell you that our insurance company is being very ruthless. Having found no blame on our part, nor the straw … and calling it a combustible accident … the only thing they can cling to is giving us a percentage of our policy … NOT the dollar amount of our loss. As this will force us to go bankrupt and not be able to rebuild unless we can get our full policy, I thought it couldn’t hurt to reach out to the straw bale community in hopes there is an attorney among us that would be willing to fight on our behalf for little compensation.
What is most profound to me after all this tragedy is remembering all the “fire” jokes about straw for years when I would tell people about my dream. So the first thing that happened when people found out about the fire was was that they felt their fears were vindicated. But when they see the photos, and see sooo much straw left and not but a couple scraps of wood …. it’s definitely something to make you stop and think.
In a way… the fire confirms to me that straw is a very safe product if the site is kept clean, and there aren’t any combustibles like propane tanks and wood!
I have a photo that shows how far away from the house the fire burned. It actually caught our conversion van on fire but the straw wall between the house and the van got only slightly scorched. It’s the only wall the firefighters didn’t use the back-hoe to tear apart bales because by that time they figured out that breaking the bales apart was spreading the fire, not stopping it. Had they known to keep the bales together, the fire would have gone out sooner. You can see all the photos of the damage at http://s211.photobucket.com/albums/bb71/CadillacMeaghan/2009-02-28%20Fire/.
We had just gotten half the slab heated with the in-floor, and were using a propane salamander to help get the rest of the house warm so we could plaster the following week. The fire never would have happened if we had been able to get to plastering.
I hope this won’t happen to other people. It started way back in July when we wanted to order our SIP roof panels, but the bank wouldn’t pay for them until they were on site, and the SIP supplier wouldn’t ship them unless they were paid for. So we were at a stand still until the lumber yard agreed to buy them for us on NET30. I shed a lot of tears back then, knowing what that was doing to my timeline. The Roof did not show up till the first week of November, and the panels were installed during the first snow storm. That is why there was no plaster on the bales. That would have stopped the fire after it had consumed all the propane in the air. Unfortunately, you can’t plaster when it’s freezing. Of course, the bank wasn’t so concerned then, but they are now! A small delay in the timeline proved to be the thread that burn downed the house.
Amazingly, the fire department not once blamed the straw and in fact said it made their job harder to put the fire out because the bales didn’t want to burn fast enough.
Thanks for any advice you could give us.