SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – Heidi Lange was among the ﬁrst to rebuild after the deadliest wildﬁre in California history destroyed her home in 2018 along with much of the town of Paradise.
After the ﬁre, she got divorced, which left her with only half the money paid out by insurance but she budgeted, planned ahead and even paid extra for stucco siding and a metal roof to make her new house more resistant to ﬁre. She thought the hard part was over. So the ofﬁce manager was stunned to learn nearly four years living in the same home, this month the annual premium on her home insurance would rise dramatically – from $1,200 to $9,750.
"To see we’ve come so far, only to have the legs kicked out from under us," she said. "This is so crazy to me. How is this the biggest thing we’re dealing with? " The soaring cost of home insurance has consumed the town of Paradise, residents and ofﬁcials say, as it prepares to commemorate the ﬁve-year anniversary of the Nov. 8, 2018, Camp Fire. Residents have received annual premiums that near or exceed $10,000 – leaving many to wonder how they`re supposed to rebuild their hard-hit community when insurance is so shockingly high for houses in an area that is supposed to be among the most affordable in California.
The wildﬁre that ripped through Paradise and surrounding areas, killing 85, sounded an alarm to national home insurers about the costs of wildﬁres fueled by climate change. Seven of the 12 top home-insurers in California – including Farmers Insurance, State Farm, Allstate have paused or restricted new business in California, saying they can’t afford to take on new clients.
California’s Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara is trying to step in to reform the system and to make the private market more robust, but the bulk of the changes won’t take effect for at least another year.
Neither the state Insurance Department nor a major industry lobbying group could explain the sharp price increases ﬁve years after the ﬁre, when so many steps have been taken to protect the community against future wildﬁres, including initiatives to bury power lines, and clear brush and trees away from buildings. The state did not have data on the average premium increase for the town.
Rex Frazier, president of the Personal Insurance Federation of California, said insurers lost more than two decades’ worth of proﬁts from the wildﬁres of 2017 and 2018, and people may have to pay more to live in wildland areas.
Carl Johnsen, a retired drywall contractor, has lived in the same house since 1979, when he moved to Paradise. It survived the 2018 ﬁre but his previous insurer dropped him, and he received a new quote of over $14,000 that he’s not inclined to pay, he said.
Johnsen doesn’t feel good about going without ﬁre and liability coverage, but feels he has little choice.
Gene Robinson, 61, and his wife purchased a new home in Paradise with the insurance proceeds from the house that burned in the Camp Fire. This year, the insurance premium offered by Farmers on their four-bedroom, three-bath home soared from $2,800 to $9,550.
The couple opted for basic ﬁre coverage through California`s insurer of last resort, which is quickly becoming the only option left for people in Paradise. The Robinsons are paying $4,500 through the California Fair Access to Insurance Requirements Plan, and $750 with another insurer for supplemental liability coverage.
The FAIR Plan is averaging 1,000 new applications a weekday from homeowners unable to ﬁnd affordable home insurance in the private market. As of September, it had written more than 330,000 policies up from nearly 273,000 plans last year and 127,000 in 2018.