Saving Grace: After being ravaged by wildfires, The Cascades apartments took no chances?property owner Sares-Regis set up barriers to protect the property from potential mudslides. Photo: Sares-Regis Caught off-guard by California wildfires in mid-November, the owner of The Cascades apartment property in Corona is focused on assessing and mitigating the damages caused by the flames.

When the wildfire broke out near a freeway in Corona, Calif., it took less than two hours for the wind to whip it across the 91 freeway and propel it 15 miles away to The Cascades. "We had absolutely no notice," said Chip Harvey, regional manager for the Sares-Regis Group, an apartment owner and developer based in Irvine, Calif., and owner of The Cascades. "It jumped the freeway and raced through the property. It was a wall of fire coming at the property."

Fortunately, motorcycle cops evacuated the 26-building, 292-unit property just as the fire arrived. No one was hurt or injured. The property wasn't unscathed, though. More than 60 units in seven buildings were red-tagged or deemed uninhabitable. Another 36 units were yellow-tagged, meaning they were in need of further inspection before residents could return. The remaining 196 units were green-tagged, or deemed safe for residents to return. Sares-Regis lost its leasing office, clubhouse, and the maintenance shop.

On the Sunday after the evacuation, 22 Sares-Regis employees came out to help board up the damaged buildings. "I had people coming in from 80 [miles] to 100 miles away," Harvey says.

Sares-Regis set up a blog to keep residents informed about damages, where they could go for assistance, when they could return, and what actions were being taken by firefighters. By Monday, the company had sent security deposit and pro-rated rent checks to its displaced residents.

In the aftermath of the fire, the focus has been on processing insurance claims for affected residents. "It's a major process," says Zoe R. Solsby, communications manager for Sares-Regis. "You have to get adjusters involved and people at the property have personal property insurance companies involved. They were probably 40 or 50 people involved."

Irvine, Calif.-based renter's insurance provider LeasingDesk said 20 claims filed as a result of the wildfires were considered total losses; the others were partial losses, including those with water, fire, and smoke damage and/or "additional living expenses" for residents who were unable to return to their apartments immediately after the fires.

The firm, which insured 69 policies at the community, said the claims would definitely add up. "It's in excess of $750,000," says Dirk Wakeham, president of LeasingDesk.

Harvey was also concerned with mudslides in the week after the fire. Fortunately, that threat never materialized?Sares-Regis spent $100,000 to set up barriers to protect the property. "It was extremely, extremely successful compared to what might have been," Harvey says.