Californian Insurers Struggle To Keep Pace With Forest Fires

Insurance companies across the state of California are struggling to keep pace with the monumental damage caused by recent wildfire infernos. The Golden State has been weathering a brutal slate of wildfires recently, including the recently-extinguished Camp Fire, but state officials are indicating that they’ll resist any efforts by insurers to hike rates thanks to the extensive property damage that’s resulted from the hungry flames encroaching on human property.

The recent Camp Fire in California claimed at least 79 lives with over 600 individuals still remaining missing, according to NPR, with that fire alone having caused untold millions in damages. Hundreds of thousands of Californians have been forcibly evacuated in recent years thanks to the ongoing wildfires, exacerbated by climate change and feeding on accumulated “slash” timber, with tens of thousands of buildings having been reduced to ash.

Californian insurers are beginning to indicate that they may need to raise rates in order to deal with this huge loss of property. According to CNBC, around $6.8 billion in damage has already been recorded from recent fires, with insurers having already underwritten losses across the state that have totaled at over $13 billion in 2017.

This has led many companies to attempt to cram previous losses into future rate hikes for everyday consumers, themselves often the victims of fires.

“They are not permitted to take all the given years losses and cram them into next year’s rates,” California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones told CNBC.

Currently, state ordinances limit rate hikes, forcing insurers to spread them out over a period of twenty years to avoid crushing consumers under heavy debts in the immediate aftermath of crises like the fires currently raging across the state. With wildfires becoming increasingly common, however, and with climate change drastically contributing to their increased severity, insurers across the American West are beginning to mull changes to their policies to better protect themselves.

“I would anticipate that we are going to see rates continue to go up in the wildland-urban interface area, based on the risk and the enormity of the losses,” Jones concluded to CNBC.

So-called “slash,” or scraps of wood that are left over on the forest floor after commercial cutting, is substantially contributing to the ongoing wildfires. Previously, controlled “light-burning” helped mitigate the amount of fuel that a wildfire (a natural, needed process) would feed upon, but misguided conservation efforts have contributed to the modern era’s recent spate of fires, according to the United States Forest Service.