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(NECN/NBC News: Bob Hasen) - Thousands of Americans lose their homes to fires each year.
What if it happened to you? Many homeowners aren't sure what their insurance covers until it's too late.
Dieter Merkle still remembers the flames coming over his hillside.
"It was a Sunday, I happened to be in my den, and I heard the police car, to please evacuate," he says.
Dieter went across the street to make sure his neighbors were okay, but by the time he returned, the flames were laying claim to his neighborhood.
"But then the wind came and the flames were about 30-40 feet high coming across, and the embers were falling on the houses," he recalls.
Hundreds of homes were lost, including about 15 houses on his street. When Dieter left, he never looked back.
"Grabbed my wallet, my scriptures and walked out," he says.
After that, it was a year of working with his insurance company to build a new house.
"In my experience, all too many people make assumptions. They assume if I pay a premium and someone says I have homeowners insurance that is really all there is to it. And it's far more complicated than that," Walt Waggener with State Farm Insurance says.
Waggener says the ability to build back after a fire can be different from house to house, much of that depending on the policy and amount of coverage.
"Do I have enough coverage to put a new home back where the old home existed? Do I have enough coverage to pay for all of my contents? Is it on a replacement basis or does this policy pay depreciated value?" Waggener says.
Dieter was able to rebuild, but wasn't able to replace a collection of books and art work.
"I did never invite the insurance company to look at what i had to see that the coverage was sufficient," Dieter says.
So it's one thing to know the details of your coverage, but Dieter takes it a step further: He says get your insurance agent to come to your house.
"Have 'em come to look at the house, take pictures, and make sure that what you have is covered," Dieter advises.
The key is to know what's covered before disaster strikes. Know your deductible, your replacement costs and your limits before the flames come over the hill.