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by Selective Insurance Company on Jul 26, 2017

After Forest Fire Claim, Selective Customer Says: ‘I’m a Fan for Life’


On November 28th, 2016, the forest caught fire in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee.


Driven by winds of up to 80 mph and with dry conditions in the region, the forest fire spread down the mountains from its starting point. It swept through the nearby towns of Gatlinburg, the gateway to the 520,000-acre park, and Pigeon Forge, a major tourist destination.


Gov. Bill Haslam called the Gatlinburg fire “the largest fire in the state of Tennessee in 100 years,” the Knoxville News-Sentinel reported, with 2,460 buildings damaged or destroyed.


Some 14,000 people in Sevier County needed to evacuate, said Mike Ownby, a Selective agency partner and owner of Ownby Insurance in Sevierville, Tennessee. “People lost everything. Some got out with just the clothes on their back, and some barely got off the mountains.”


Added Ownby, whose office is 13 miles away from the national park: “All the people I’ve talked to that were in the fire are shaken to the core.” The fire’s toll was worst for the families of 14 people who died because of the fire.


Jeff Schoenfield, a Selective customer through Ownby’s agency, owned a commercial building destroyed in the blaze. His 7,000-square-foot All-Pro Realtors building in Gatlinburg was set on Ski Mountain Road, a steep and winding road outside of town. As the fire swept through, he had had to evacuate. In fact, Schoenfield first learned his building burned when a client saw a Facebook video with the destroyed All-Pro building in the background.


Jeff Schoenfield, owner of All-Pro Realtors,

lost his building in the Gatlinburg fire.


Jim Pebbles was first on the scene from Selective. An Executive General Adjuster in Claims, Pebbles responded when Ownby contacted Selective on November 29th, just one day after Gatlinburg caught fire.


Pebbles reached out to Schoenfield, using the information Ownby Insurance had ready. Pebbles and Schoenfield met in a diner outside of town the first night that Pebbles reached the area.


“We couldn’t get in there [to the building] for a few days. The whole community was locked down as they were fighting flare-ups of the fires,” explained Schoenfield.


“There were power lines all over the roads,” said Pebbles, and buildings smoldered “for days, even weeks.” Since the fire was so large, “the fire department was predominantly focused on lifesaving efforts,” rather than attacking structure fires, he explained. And “it took them a week to go through all structures and identify if they had any victims.”


Pebbles quickly concluded the building was a total loss once entry into town was opened. Said Schoenfield: Pebbles was “reassuring … and extremely personable. He assured me there wasn’t going to be a problem. It’s easy to say that but it’s hard to deliver that.”

The office of All-Pro Realtors, located in a retail center,

burned in the Gatlinburg wildfire of November 28th, 2016.


Selective “immediately cut us a check for lost rental income” from his building tenants, said Schoenfield. “As soon as we got that [necessary claim] info to [Pebbles], we had a check. The same thing goes for claim of the building itself.”


The claim “could not have gone better given the horrible circumstance,” stated Schoenfield. “Given, it wasn’t a house and we didn’t lose irreplaceable keepsakes like family photos. But it’s still a bad experience to have your business burn down.”


“Given that horrible backdrop, I couldn’t have asked for better service from Jim and Selective Insurance. I have friends who are still trying to get their insurance coverage sorted out” months after the fire, Schoenfield revealed.


“We had our check in hand as soon as possible. It was just flawless. I can’t say enough about what a great job that was done.”


Ownby added: “Selective responded in just unbelievably wonderful fashion in this fire, a major catastrophe, as soon as we started turning claims in.” The response was “prompt, professional, courteous. We’ve had insureds saying they couldn’t believe how well they were treated, and how much empathy was shown by adjusters of Selective in this catastrophe.”


Mike Ownby, Ownby Insurance


“I can’t brag on Selective enough,” Ownby said. Besides the All-Pro Realtors claims, Selective delivered a claim check to an insured with a $2.5 million home in 30 days of the start of the fire. “That’s unbelievably quick for a claim of that magnitude,” Ownby stated.  Other claims were paid within 45 days, added Ownby, whose agency had more than two dozen claims with Selective.


“We weren’t alone,” Schoenfield added. “The good news is Selective Insurance and our local agency Ownby were wonderful from the beginning to the end.”


Mick Zondory, Selective’s Vice President of Property Claims, explained, “We approach these claims with empathy and understanding and care. They are very, very difficult. You can imagine the emotional toll that is taken on the people involved.”


The Gatlinburg Fire: At a Glance


17,094: Number of acres burned in and around Great Smoky Mountains National Park


191: Patients treated at hospitals for fire-related injuries & illnesses


14,000: People evacuated


2,460: Number of buildings damaged or destroyed


$500,000,000: Estimated cost of damages in Sevier County, TN


780: Firefighters from 40 states and Washington D.C. involved in fighting the fire


Two teenage boys were charged with starting the fire.



Said Schoenfield, “We couldn’t be happier with the process given the backdrop of the tragedy. Everything was done super fast. I couldn’t stress enough: my agent, the insurance company, the adjuster ─ all of it just couldn’t have been better.


“I’m a fan for life,” said Schoenfield.



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