California regulators have moved to take over an insurance company that can’t pay out all claims following a massive wildfire that destroyed more than 13,000 homes.
Merced Property & Casualty Company was pushed to insolvency by the fire that sparked Nov. 8 and nearly destroyed Paradise and surrounding towns, state Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones said.
The department doesn’t know how many people the company insured or the total amount of claims following the fire, spokeswoman Nancy Kincaid said. But people will still have their claims paid through the California Insurance Guarantee Association.
“Protecting Camp Fire policyholders who have already suffered through so much was my first consideration,” Jones said in a statement, using the official name of the wildfire.
“Due to the massive wildfire in Butte County, we have placed a moratorium on all new business,” read a message at the top of the site. “Our focus is on assisting those who have suffered loss from the catastrophic event.”
The fire killed 88 people and damaged more than 18,000 structures, making it the deadliest and most destructive wildfire on record in California.
No other insurers have reported insolvency, but Jones directed his department to conduct reviews of all California insurers to make sure they are properly managing their fire exposure.
A total of 7,579 fires have burned some 1,667,855 acres, an area roughly the size of Delaware, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
Moody’s last week estimated total insured losses at $10-$15 billion from the Camp Fire and the Woolsey fire, which was burning at the same time in the foothills above Malibu in southern California.
Insurers say climate change is a factor in the more intense fire seasons and are raising rates or even dropping coverage.
“We’re seeing these fires these last few years that people have defined as 1-in-500-year-type events … Absolutely we’re seeing some things change and climate change is playing a role in that,” said Suzanne Meraz, spokesperson for CSAA Insurance Company.
Insurers now often use computer models to generate house-by-house risk predictions, factoring in such features as local topography and brush cover instead of just using a more general history of blazes in a region.