New Fire Insurance Program Aims to Protect Homes, Communities

NBC 7 Responds looked at the program ahead of a public hearing on the new insurance framework

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You can weigh in on a proposed insurance framework that offers financial incentive for homes and communities that take measures to prevent wildfires. Insurance companies would be able to use the "Safer from Wildfires" program's list of actions to weigh the fire risk for homes and businesses.

The proposal is moving forward to a public hearing on April 13 because some homeowners are finding it hard to find fire insurance.

“Prices are escalating dramatically for some," said Doug Heller of the Consumer Federation of America. "For others, companies are not even offering insurance anymore or they’re not renewing the policies.”

Heller says while fire risks are a growing threat, he thinks some insurance companies are making it harder to live in Southern California.

“I think they’ve tried to take advantage of the recognition that things are changing and that the risk is a little bit more, maybe even a lot more than it had been in the past,” said Heller.

Commissioner Ricardo Lara says this framework is to protect Californians while reducing the risk of wildfires. There are three distinct steps:

  1. Protecting the structure: This includes using fire-resistant materials as well as creating an ember-resistant zone.
  2. Protecting immediate surroundings: This includes clearing vegetation and debris, creating defensible space, and having additional structures at least 30 feet from the home.
  3. Working together as a community: working with the local fire district, having a planned evacuation route, and clearing overgrown areas.

As homeowners and communities make it harder for wildfires to start, Heller says those actions should be rewarded.

“When we reduce our risk, it means that insurance companies have less potential claims to pay out, so we should be seeing lower premiums.” said Heller. "The goal should be that we have fewer homes destroyed in wildfires, so let's focus on that."

The proposed regulations would require insurers to take into account the specific mitigation efforts taken by homeowners and communities when calculating rates. California's Department of Insurance says it has met with consumer advocates, fire chiefs, and insurance trade associations to create the new framework.

Lara says there are now 17 insurance companies, representing 40 percent of the marketplace, that are offering fire mitigation discounts. That's up from only 7 percent of the marketplace just a few years ago.

The hearing is on April 13th at 1 p.m. You can find out more about the public hearing here.

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