LOS ANGELES (CN) – Wildfire-ravaged homeowners say California’s negligible fire insurance coverage left them holding the bag for most of their living expenses and the cost of repairing their homes. The class claims the California Fair Plan, a state provider of “basic property insurance,” underinsured them, refused to reimburse them for property and charged extra for removing debris.
California homes in the “buffer zone between wild lands and urban environments” are so susceptible to wildfires that most insurance companies refuse to write fire insurance policies on them, according to the Superior Court complaint. “Well over half of the wildfires in California occur in this buffer zone.”
The state plan is meant to protect homeowners there with the most basic coverage mandated by law. But the class claims the California Fair Plan does not provide basic coverage available on the normal market.
Lead plaintiff Gaetan St. Cyr says he and his son are living in a trailer after losing $81,000 that the plan should have given him for a new place to live when his home was destroyed in the 2007 Corral Canyon wildfire.
Doug and Judi Pace hoped their rental home would pay for their retirement, but the state refuses to reimburse them the $90,000 they lost on rent when it was wiped out in the same 2007 fire.
The class claims that the state also reduced the actual amount they would be reimbursed on their homes in exchange for covering additional structures on their properties and debris removal.
Mark Musicant claims he was charged $30,000 for debris removal, taken from money he should have been paid for the loss of his home.
Increased losses to wildfires are inevitable as more people move into the buffer zones and build homes there, fire officials say.
“We call it the wildland-urban interface,” Daniel Berlant of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said in an interview. “More and more people are moving to these areas, presumably to get out of the cities. There are more trees there, more acreage, better views, more room to recreate. It’s like moving to the suburbs for them.”
These areas are more susceptible to natural wildfires than urban setting, and people who live there often trigger more fires, said Berlant.
“As more and more people move to these areas there will be an increase in the start of wildfires and more people will feel the effects.”
Berlant said most of the recent wildfires have been “human-caused,” but the devastation can be mitigated by homeowners acknowledging their assumed risk and taking care of their own homes.
“We put the responsibility back on the homeowners,” Berlant said. State law requires homeowners to clear dead vegetation for 100 feet around their properties, and fire-resistant plants, rather than explosive ones like eucalyptus, can help.
“It’s a 50-50 share,” Berlant said. “We provide the offense if they provide the defense. We have to work together because the fire department can’t do it all on its own.”
The class demands damages and wants the state to change its fire insurance policies to provide more coverage. They are represented by Denise Jarman of Davis.