California Firefighters Unable to Get Fire Insurance For Own Firehouses

The wildfire crisis in California has gotten so bad that even firehouses in the state aren’t able to get wildfire insurance.

During a state Senate budget subcommittee hearing that was held on Thursday, the rather ironic issue emerged.

The governor’s administration was defending an $11 million request the state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection had made to replace a kitchen at the Ishi Conservation Camp.

That facility trains and houses inmate firefighters in the remote foothills of the Sierra Nevada in Tehama County.

Building maintenance there is typically paid for by Cal Fire through bonds that are based on its property’s value. However, it wasn’t able to do so for this project because it wasn’t able to insure the property to the satisfaction of underwriters, Victor Lopez, an analyst in the Fire Department, told state lawmakers.

He explained:

“The insurance industry, they weren’t interested in selling insurance policies in the region due to the perceived fire risk in the area.”

The insurer of last resort, known as the FAIR Plan, doesn’t meet the requirements of the bond underwriters, which left them out of luck to fund this project.

State lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle were certainly caught off guard by those comments.

Republican state Senator Brian Dahle commented:

“We can’t get fire insurance at a fire station that’s going to be manned by firefighters. That’s where we are in California. That to me is crazy.”

Fire insurance has become a major issue in California, as an increasing number of wildfires ravage the state almost on an annual basis. In response, insurance companies have completely fled the state, announced that they wouldn’t be renewing policies or placed moratoriums on any new coverage.

Even after the California Insurance Commissioner allowed insurers to increase rates, companies still decided to leave the state. In just the last two months, for instance, State Farm announced it would be dropping thousands of homeowners from coverage, while American National said it was leaving California altogether.

Democratic state Senator Josh Becker has introduced a bill that would require insurers to give home and property owners credit for things such as installing roofs that are fire-resistant or building fire breaks on their properties.

Insurance companies currently oppose the measure, arguing it would force them to take on way too much risk.

As Becker commented:

“It’s ironic and highlights the problem we’re trying to solve. We’re just trying to get recognition for the direct fire mitigation on the ground.”

In a follow-up email to Politico, Monica Hassan, a spokesperson for the state Department of General Services, said there are 16 projects the department has identified that might face trouble obtaining fire insurance.

Eleven of those projects are for Cal Fire.

Mike McGuinness, the deputy director of the state Department of Finance who’s responsible for Cal Fire, said they’ll be reviewing all upgrade and maintenance projects that are looking for funds this year to see if any might have trouble getting fire insurance.