We recently published a story about a family with ties to the Valley facing an uphill struggle after losing their home in the Woolsey fire.
That wildfire started in Ventura County, scorching more than 150 square miles down into Los Angeles County, taking with it property in Malibu where Amie Moore and her family lived. Amie is the daughter of Valley resident Dave Salter.
The Moores are not alone in their loss. Last year’s fires destroyed more than 15,000 homes throughout the state, including those incinerated in the massive Camp fire in Northern California.
If it seems to you that our wildfires are getting bigger and more destructive, you are correct. Each year brings another batch of all-consuming monsters, and Californians are virtually powerless to do anything other than what the Moore family did, run from the devastation.
Last year was dreadful with regard to California wildfires. There were 58 fires of 1,000 acres or more, and six of those behemoths burned more than 50,000 acres, including the state’s biggest ever, the Camp/Mendocino fire at just under 460,000 acres.
The economic losses are staggering — and they really don’t matter compared to the loss of human lives.
The tragedy doesn’t end when the fires are finally conquered. The Moores will need several years to recover from the loss of their home and outbuildings in Malibu, but for many people, recovery will be next to impossible.
Homeowners throughout western states, including California, are being notified by their insurance companies about policies being cancelled. In most cases it’s because the companies’ assessors inspected the property in question, and found it to be at too great a risk of being destroyed in a wildfire.
For most folks, the cancellation of a homeowner’s policy is seriously bad news, because mortgage lenders require homes to be insured. A cancelled homeowner’s policy opens a massive can of worms.
For just about anyone who’s paying attention, this is all part of a perfect storm of unfortunate circumstances — periods of drought helping to create mountains of bone-dry fuel for fire, more homes being built in areas subject to periodic burns, and a changing climate that the science community believes will make that perfect storm even worse.
Homeowner policies remain available, but new clients seeking such coverage in fire-prone areas are likely to encounter far more thorough scrutiny of their properties, and perhaps even some advice from insurers on how to better fire-proof your home.
For example, overhanging trees and underbrush, if dry enough, are bombs waiting to detonate if a big fire happens nearby. Embers from wildfires can be blown miles from the active fire, so while your property may seem relatively safe, if you can see a forest from your home, the risk is real.
The insurance industry is still assessing the $9 billion in insured damages caused in California wildfires last year. The monster Camp fire that destroyed 14,000 homes compelled one local insurer to declare insolvency. The big companies can handle the damages, at least for the time being, but the smaller companies are definitely at risk.
Companies don’t necessarily report their cancelled policies, but officials at the state’s Fair Access to Insurance Requirements program, a place of last resort for Californians seeking coverage, say more than 15,000 homeowners have turned to the program for help since 2014.
Even officials in the Trump administration who are among the climate change deniers admit the situation is likely to only get worse.
The message is this — do what you can to make your property safe from wildfire. And, good luck.