Insurers drop policies over wildfire worries | SierraSun.com

Insurers drop policies over wildfire worries

Jenny Goldsmith
Sierra Sun

The wildfire season has just begun, but insurance companies are still feeling the heat from last year’s flames causing many to tighten restrictions on mountain home policies.

Tahoe Donner resident and retired Allstate agent Jim Kinney said he received a letter from Allstate in April notifying him that a representative would be doing an inspection of his property.

“I was informed by my agent that I needed to clean up around my home,” said Kinney, who’s been an Allstate customer for more than 25 years.

Kinney said he not only wanted to maintain his current insurance policy, but as a 25-year Tahoe Donner resident, he also understood the importance of defensible space, so he hired some crews to help with the clean up.

“I removed over 70 bags of pine needles, cut the dead limbs on the trees around my home and I removed one large tree that was closest to my house,” Kinney said. “This clean up did nothing to get Allstate to reconsider renewing my policy.”

During the second inspection, Kinney said the agent informed him that out of approximately 300 homes that were reviewed in Tahoe Donner, only 10 will qualify under Allstate’s new restrictions.

Because there were several trees in Kinney’s backyard within 30 feet of each other at the crown, and because he has a wood deck, Allstate would not renew his policy, Kinney said.

“I did everything I could and it wasn’t good enough,” he said.

The restrictions differ depending on the property, but Allstate typically requires a minimum of 100 feet of clearance, said Peter DeMarco, senior corporate relations manager for Allstate.

Allstate also factors in the width of streets, distance to a water source, the amount of combustible vegetation, the degree of the slope and the difficulty in finding the property, DeMarco said.

“California is a catastrophe-prone state, as we saw once again last October when wildfires ravaged Southern California,” DeMarco said. “It is important to make sure that potential fire hazards are identified and corrected or resolved.”

By December 2007, Allstate reported that they received over 7,000 claims from last summer’s Southern California wildfires, resulting in more than $315 million in wildfire-related losses, according to a released document.

“We’re taking responsible steps to manage our risk so that the company is in a financially strong position to help protect customers if a disaster strikes,” DeMarco said. “Everyone has a responsibility to reduce the threat of a wildfire by clearing dead trees, brush and other flammable items.”

Kinney’s residence has yet to be inspected by the Tahoe Donner Forestry Department for adequate defensible space, but he said he did check with the division to ensure he would meet the requirements.

“I’m right in the guidelines of the forestry department,” Kinney said.

It seems it’s not just Allstate turning homeowners down for renewals.

Bill Hanson ” broker and manager of HRH Insurance in Truckee ” said clients are pouring in every week seeking new homeowners insurance.

“We’ve been getting a tremendous amount of calls,” Hanson said. “All the markets have tightened their rules, especially Allstate.”

“The Angora fire scared Allstate to death,” Hanson added.

The bad news is independent Allstate agents are losing business, but that means good news for insurance brokers like Hanson.

“We’re definitely benefiting from this,” Hanson said. “It’s going to continue to be a problem until there’s a major forest correction in the area.”