The future of insurance in the Camp Fire burn scar

The Camp Fire has changed the course, and the price of insuring homes in wildfire-prone areas.

Posted: Nov 8, 2019 11:00 AM

PARADISE, Calif. - The Camp Fire has changed the course and the price of insuring homes in wildfire-prone areas.

"Right here is where the front door used to be." Charles Brooks would do anything to have his old home back.

"Lots of wildlife, deer, mountain lions, quail, foxes, it's great," he adds, as he walks around the burned property where his home once stood.

Brooks says the Camp Fire changed the course of his life, as he points to parts of his property that no longer look the same.  "We had these beautiful redwood trees that were on our neighbor's property that was kind of the entrance."

For Brooks and his family, there was hardly a question that they would rebuild on the property that they loved. 

After the fire, Brooks started the foundation "Rebuild Paradise."

He describes it as a "grassroots effort" to help people overcome all kinds of obstacles in the rebuilding, repopulation process.

At the top of the list: Insurance.

According to Brooks, if a homeowner suffers a total loss, that homeowner is mandated to get a one-year renewal on their policy.  "Which," Brook points out, "that's not a lot if you're rebuilding, trying to get rebuilt in a year.  There are a few people who have been able to do it."

He says "Our rate is going to a little bit more than double from what we were paying pre-fire."

Brooks spoke at a special insurance town hall meeting in Paradise.  Serving as the keynote speaker, California Deputy Insurance Commissioner Tony Cignarale was on hand to answer questions from the audience.

Cignarale says the California insurance industry has been caught off guard by wildfires in the last few years.  He describes what it was like when the state's top insurance leaders drove through Paradise for the first time.

"Well, it was just shellshock, really, when we first drove through...I mean no one expected or projected that there would be, from 2015, significant wildfire, 2017 and now 2018, significant wildfire, historic wildfires, and so that took everybody by surprise.  It took the insurance industry by surprise."

The Camp Fire forced Merced Property & Casualty Company, based in the Central Valley, out of business.  It is now under the control of the California Department of Insurance.

Brooks says he's been peppered with questions about insurance, and many people say they can no longer afford it.

He has made that a special mission of his foundation, and has been doing extensive research.

Says Brooks, We were pleasantly surprised to see there are a number of people insuring.  The insurance rates for the exact same construction of a home-it can vary as much as $4,000...Maybe where your home was is something that your insurance rates will be higher than what you're comfortable with, but if you want to stay in the community, there are examples of places in Paradise where you can live where the rates are lower."

Brooks suggests doing thorough research on different addresses.  If a person is determined to live in a community, consider a different address in that community, since insurance rates can vary so much depending on a particular address.

According to the Rebuild Paradise Foundation, if the homeowner or renter in a high wildfire risk area can not find wildfire insurance they can get insurance through the California Fair Plan.   But it will likely be more expensive and have limited coverage.   The foundation is working with the California Department of Insurance to come up with a more affordable solution.

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