David Battles Insurance Goliath

David Battles Insurance Goliath

17 Dezember 2010

published by www.crestlinecourier-news.com

USA — Crest Estates homeowner David Caine looks around his mountain community and he is baffled. “Did we do something wrong?” he asks.

His answer is that rather than doing something wrong, mountain residents have done much that is right to help increase the safety of their homes. Those efforts were helped in large part by nature, with trees being removed due to fire and insect infestation.

Between the 2003 Old Fire and the Grass Valley and Slide Fires of 2007, more than 105,000 acres of trees and vegetation burned. Add to that, Caine said at the December meeting of the Arrowhead Communities Fire Safe Council, the nearly two million trees that have been removed by loggers, and we have a “great big fuel break all around us.”

In addition to the trees lost to the bark beetle infestation, homeowners have been working diligently with Forest Care to thin both dead and green trees on their property, in order to comply with the county’s fire fuels reduction ordinance, passed in 2008.

Despite thinning the trees on his property and clearing all ladder fuels, Caine received a notice of nonrenewal from Allstate, his homeowners insurance carrier. He brought his concerns—as well as a sheaf of letters from similarly concerned residents—to the ACFSC meeting.

After he received his nonrenewal postcard, Caine said, he started hearing from other people with similar issues. “Why is this punitive action occurring?” he wondered.

Other residents who contacted this newspaper about also receiving nonrenewal notices from Allstate wrote of the insurance company requiring them to clear all trees within 100 feet of their homes. What confuses many of those homeowners is the same trees were there during previous inspections.

“What is defensible space?” Caine asked at the ACFSC meeting. He pointed to Section 51177 of the California Government Code, which states: “‘Defensible space’” means the area adjacent to a structure or dwelling where wildfire prevention or protection practices are implemented to provide defense from an approaching wildfire or to minimize the spread of a structure fire to wildlands or surrounding areas.”

What defensible space comes down to, noted Gerry Newcombe, president of the ACFSC, is “a determination by the captain on the scene. It doesn’t go by the number of trees.”

Battalion Chief Al Krelnikov of San Bernardino County Fire agreed with Newcombe: “We make a decision on the scene if we can defend a home.” A lot, he said, depends on the wind conditions at the time.

“This is not about me,” Caine said. “It’s about something that touches all of us.” His agent, he noted, told him not to worry. “He said he can get me coverage but it will cost me more. It’s with two companies I’ve never heard of.”

“Insurance is risk,” Alan Reilly, ACFSC vice president pointed out. “With every insurer who pulls out (of the area), the risk increases for the remaining insurers.”

Reilly himself had recently received a first letter from Allstate and said an inspector—from Texas—had looked at his property that day.

“Unless the state insurance commissioner gets involved,” Reilly said, “we’re out of luck.”

Newcombe wondered if it would be possible to get elected officials and affected people together at a meeting. “We can try,” Caine said, noting “we’re at a good point to hold a coalition of concerned citizens.”


As the agencies made their reports at the ACFSC meeting, their news was optimistic. “Fuel moisture is way up,” said Battalion Chief Mark Patino of the U.S. Forest Service. “It would be hard pressed to burn. We’d need a week straight of hard wind.”

Forester Glenn Barley of Cal Fire agreed with that assessment: “Nothing is going to burn now.” He had just had a weather briefing, he said, that indicated it should still be a La Nina year. “Eighty percent of the time that means below normal precipitation,” Barley said, “but three of the wettest years on record were during La Nina.”

As for Forest Care’s ongoing thinning work, Tim Holschbach said foresters have made 1,458 educational visits in the Lake Arrowhead area, where they have treated 1,024 parcels with another 171 in progress.

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