HEALDSBURG, Calif. –
Insurance has become a serious problem in California as wildfires — past and present — wreak havoc on the state.
After last year’s devastating wildfires, insurance companies are balking at fire coverage policy renewals for more than 350,000 residents in high-risk areas.
"We are seeing an increasing trend across California where people at risk of wildfires are being non-renewed by their insurer," state Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara said in a statement.
The California Department of Insurance “has seen cases where homeowners were paying an annual premium of $800-$1,000 but, upon renewal, saw increases to as high as $2,500-$5,000,” a staggering rise of more than 300 percent in most cases.
The department added that “some of these homeowners have conducted extensive and costly defensible-space and other mitigation, but these actions did not lower premiums.”
Insurers, meanwhile, are struggling to find a financially viable coverage model as blazes become increasingly common and unpredictable.
Crews lost ground on Sunday against a wind-driven wildfire that has blackened a wide swath of California’s picturesque wine country and driven 180,000 people from their homes as they hoped for a break in the hot, dry weather.
About 3,000 people were battling the Kinkade Fire, the worst of more than a dozen major blazes that have damaged or destroyed nearly 400 structures, and prompted Governor Gavin Newsom to declare a statewide emergency.
“All hands are focusing on the Kincade,” Newsom told reporters after meeting residents at an evacuation center in the Sonoma County city of Petaluma, calling that blaze “the most stubborn challenge we face.”
Newsom said its containment had “slipped” to about half of an earlier estimate of 10 percent, with more than 50,000 acres (20,230 hectares) burned, as nearly 90-mph (145-kph) gusts whipped flames toward communities as far south as northern Santa Rosa.
About 180,000 people were under mandatory evacuation orders, including the towns of Healdsburg and Windsor, north of Santa Rosa, which stand in the path of the flames.
The Kincade, which has ravaged nearly 80 sq miles (207 sq km) of wine country, has burned down 79 structures since it broke out on Wednesday but no casualties have been reported.
High wind forecasts prompted utility Pacific Gas & Electric Corp on Saturday night to shut off power to about 940,000 customers in 43 counties to guard against the risk of touching off wildfires. The utility said the protective blackouts could last two days.
The governor has been sharply critical of PG&E, saying corporate greed and mismanagement kept it from upgrading its infrastructure while wildfire hazards have steadily worsened over the past decade.
PG&E, which filed for bankruptcy in January, citing billions of dollars in civil liabilities from deadly wildfires sparked by its equipment in 2017 and 2018, says it has since remedied problems experienced with its website and customer call center.
Newsom said firefighters were making their stand at U.S. Route 101 near Windsor as they waited for relief from hot, dry winds forecast to subside significantly on Monday.
Most of the more than 40,000 residents ordered to evacuate were allowed to return home by Saturday afternoon, the county fire department said.