Homeowners, cleaners frustrated with military over fire claims

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HERRIMAN -- New troubles are cropping up for some homeowners in the Herriman fire zone: a mismatch between cleanup bills and what the military is willing to pay.

It's been two weeks since that Sept. 19 fire was triggered by National Guard machine gun training at Camp Williams, burning down three homes and damaging hundreds of others with smoke.

Three companies KSL spoke with portray the claims process as a mess, and they're pulling out.

The National Guard says it's had to hold the line against companies that charge too much, but it maintains most people with claims are very satisfied.

Sunday a subcontractor finished up his portion of a cleanup job at Herriman resident Eden Griffiths' home, getting out smoke and ash and making the carpet white again. But Saturday night, Griffiths was near tears. The National Guard refused to cover her overall bill from a restoration contractor.

The restoration companies that are trained and certified, we're very gun-shy now, because we don't know if we're going to get docked 20-25 percent on our bills when we go and do the work.

–Annissa Coy, Mobile Clean Systems

"The bill was $7,000," said homeowner Eden Griffiths, who said the Guard is only willing to pay $5,500.

As for who is taking care of the rest, Griffiths said she doesn't know.

"I don't have the $1,500 to pay," she said, barely able to hold back tears.

Her contractor, Annissa Coy, claims 11 years of experience. She announced Saturday night she's pulling out and going back to Washington State.

"We've all pulled out," she said. "The restoration companies that are trained and certified, we're very gun-shy now, because we don't know if we're going to get docked 20-25 percent on our bills when we go and do the work."

Another contractor echoed these feelings, telling KSL he's also giving up because of frustration with the National Guard claims process.

The National Guard says it's covering all legitimate claims, but it has to protect taxpayers' money. It determines a fair price for each job based on claims made by Herriman residents in the first few days.

"Initially claims were pretty steady, but then prices tended to elevate," said Col. Hank McIntire with the Utah National Guard.

In other words, some companies started jacking up their rates.

But Coy says she inspects and takes samples in each home before deciding what needs to be done, then she sets her rates with accepted national guidelines.

"There are set standards in this industry -- whether it's being paid by the insurance company or the National Guard -- that we are all subject to," she said.

But the Guard ignores those national standards, saying they're derived from disaster-prone areas. They say a better baseline is the local one established by the first few days of claims.

McIntyre says many companies are very satisfied with the way the cleanup is being handled and are still on the job.

"What we've seen, the trend we're seeing in the claims center, is that 99 out of 100 claimants are very, very satisfied with the process and the compensation they're receiving," he said.

The National Guard says other companies are staying on the job and continuing to clean, and residents continue to get their claims honored. The Guard has already paid out more than $2 million to settle more than 1,100 claims.

E-mail: hollenhorst@ksl.com

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