We spent several days visiting Calaveras County, where, in 2015, the Butte Fire destroyed 475 homes and killed 2 people. Many of the county’s 44,828 residents live in rural regions of the Sierra foothills. CAL FIRE Chief Josh White gave us a tour of the area that burned, pointing out brush and tree characteristics that affected the fire, and why some homes were still standing after the fire’s onslaught.
We also learned that access to homeowners insurance has been a common frustration after the recent spike in severe wildfires. The area’s largest title company told us that home buyers’ inability to find insurance has held up deals. Real estate agents have been looking for high risk insurance options for their clients. One realtor described 2,200 homes in Arnold that have had a rash of policy cancellations, and are struggling to find insurance carriers who will sell them a new policy. At town hall events, local government officials receive pleas for help in getting insurance. A local reporter who joined us goes into further details in his news story about our visit.
Chief White described recent changes to insurance underwriting practices that he considers overly broad and conservative. The current methods can’t account for a number of proven fire-hardening techniques practiced by many homeowners and communities. His real-life experience confirmed and expanded on much of what we’d already studied about fire science, and as we drove through a variety of neighborhoods, it wasn’t hard to guess which houses are at higher risk than others. But in many cases, these dramatically different risks are all grouped into one category by insurance underwriters.
When it comes to evaluating a home’s wildfire vulnerability, it’s fortunate how much we’re able to see in a satellite or aerial image. Delos is excited to be working in parallel with CAL FIRE and the Fire Resource and Assessment Program (FRAP) to use new technology to understand more about each individual home’s risk, and how those risks change throughout different seasons. We believe that new underwriting models can better reflect changing conditions and homeowners’ efforts in reducing their risk. And then, in turn, we can incentivize actions that help all homeowners and communities be safer from increasing severe wildfires.