Fire curing has proven to be effective in saving homes; insurance companies not yet on board
By Kenny Choi
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SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) – Wildfires have burned nearly 2.5 million acres in California this year alone. As we reported, they sparked an insurance crisis, with hundreds of thousands of homeowners abandoned due to high fire risk.
But KPIX 5 found a homeowner who managed to save both their insurance and their home.
“When we were evacuated, fire was coming out of the canyon. We pulled up on the road and looked back over here. I have written it. I said, there’s no way our house can survive, ”said Rodger Wells, an owner of Grizzly Flats, a community in El Dorado County that was devastated by the Caldor fire.
But weeks after the evacuation and still displaced, Rodger Wells and his wife Mary turned on the news and miraculously saw their house still standing.
“It was amazing,” said Mary Wells.
“Yeah, I couldn’t believe it, you know, stunned, damn smoke!” said Rodger Wells.
In all directions outside their home, there are only charred remains of what so many families called home. There is plenty of evidence that hell made its way to the Wells Gate as well. “The fire was there, but it didn’t light the house,” Rodger Wells said.
The former lumberjack thinks it’s because two years ago, when he retired, he started hardening his house. He sealed it so embers couldn’t get in, replaced a wooden deck with synthetic planks, installed a fire-resistant roof and siding, and cut down trees.
“We felled 14 trees that were too close. We opened it. So if there was a fire it wouldn’t be on us, ”Rodger Wells said. “Two years ago, this house would have disappeared.
Rodger Wells also made sure to keep his insurance company, Allstate, up to date with every home improvement improvement. So not only is her home safe, but her annual premiums have remained at $ 1,200 per year.
Steve Moeller bought his home in Auburn, Placer County, built “hardened” from the ground up.
“Our house cannot burn down,” Moeller said. “There are sprinkler systems on the inside, it’s a non-combustible material on the outside, the roof is fire resistant, there are vents that don’t let embers in. “
However, State Farm, its decades-long property insurer, ignored it when renewing.
“It went from $ 900 a year to $ 9,000. and I didn’t want to pay for that, ”Moeller said.
He was able to find a specialty insurer, Rivington Partners, who inspected his home and offered him an annual premium of $ 2,300 which includes a 10% rebate for hardening the home.
But according to El Dorado County insurance agent Aurora Mullet, very few homeowners get breaks. On the contrary, it has clients who do everything to harden their homes, to see their insurance double and triple.
“The system is down,” Mullett told KPIX 5. “With the lack of progress we’re seeing, I think it’s going to get worse before it gets better. And we’re going to have more insurance companies pulling out. ”Mullett said.
Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara admits this has been a challenge.
“I’m going to tell you in all the counties that I have visited and the meetings with consumers, that one of the biggest problems they give me is the fact that they will have an insurance company that will come and say , you need to do these hardening things. and then they are always excluded from their politics, ”said Lara.
Lara says he’s working with the industry to come up with new home hardening standards that, if met, will guarantee homeowners a rebate.
“It’s similar to a good driving discount that insurers are already doing,” said Lara. “We want to encourage people to do the right thing.
Moeller wants it too. His neighborhood group Firewise recently met with the commissioner, seeking advice on how to convince insurers to do the right thing.
“We hope that as we organize as communities and work harder to reduce the risk of fires, insurance companies will recognize this,” Moeller said.
Returning to Grizzly Flats, Rodger Wells hopes his survival story inspires both insurers and homeowners.
“Anyone who lives in a forest should put in the time and effort because they are vulnerable,” said Rodger Wells.
An insurance industry spokesperson told KPIX he was working with the state to develop the new risk guidelines, using technology-driven models. The insurance commissioner wants new rules before the next fire season.
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