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State Insurance Commissioner Says Firefights Are Most Expensive Time of Year

Advocates say, however, that excessive insurance claims mean firefighters and neighbors might have to sue the same insurance company when they are all fighting the same wildfire.

Brad Knowles, an assistant commissioner at the California Department of Insurance, said that the size of a wildfire’s debris-removal costs is often the result of whether the homeowner had policies covering property in the vicinity of the fire or not. Although when a wildfire occurs, almost every homeowner is required to have insurance, it can be difficult to determine what should be paid out and what should be left unpaid.

“Every fire … can claim hundreds of structures,” Mr. Knowles said.

He said he had experienced firsthand how even things like road closures could create a challenge for insurers, as were recent fires in the winter that forced insurers to go through months-long claims investigations. In August, the Long Beach Fire Department estimated the Long Beach Fire Station No. 9 at 5,300 square feet, yet it does not cover a structure in the same way as a house, Mr. Knowles said.

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California’s wildfires a $14.4 billion cost to insurers An actuarial study that the state conducted found that homeowners and businesses faced a 400 percent increase in losses between January and March because of “rate shock,” Mr. Knowles said.

Representatives from federal and state agencies, local organizations and insurance groups agreed with the insurance commissioner’s sentiments and also said that the increased response time to wildfire emergencies makes it even more difficult for fire agencies to fight wildfires.

John Asmus, director of the division of insurance for the California Department of Insurance, said that he could not discuss what measures might be considered for reducing wildfire damages on a state level.

But Matthew Morris, a senior consultant at KPMG and insurance expert, said that there were a number of ways to combat these higher costs.

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Wildfire contained, but hundreds of homes still threatened in Southern California “It can be in the form of partnerships with private industry and the regulations surrounding liability and regulations regarding deductibles,” Mr. Morris said.

While numerous groups and agencies, such as the California Insurance Commissioner’s Office, are discussing both immediate and long-term responses to wildfire, Mr. Morris said the biggest constraint was the cost of increasing resources that would not be limited to the two states.

“The thing that always comes to mind when we think about climate change is a real pinch on resources,” Mr. Morris said. “If you can’t build the extra resources as quickly and effectively as you can if you are dealing with a catastrophe of this scale, how effective are you really going to be in preventing these (Wildfire) ills?”