Homeowners Hit WIth High Fire Insurance Rates

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Homeowners in the Berryessa Estates and Highlands communities have been receiving notices that their insurance providers will be dropping fire protection coverage or will increase their rates. The news has left Napa County officials scrambling to start finding a solution for the problem. A Highlands resident told the Napa County Board of Supervisors last week that his insurance has increased from $500 to $1000 in one year and that he and other residents are struggling to find providers that are willing to extend policies to their community. A similar issue is occurring in the Estates, which is related to the distance in road milds that the communities are from the local fire stations in the area.

Based on the California insurance code, the companies can classify the Highlands and the Estates as “unprotected” communities because they are more than 5 road miles from the nearest fire stations and they are also in the interface of wildland and urban areas. However, this isn’t unique to Lake Berryessa. It has been noted that it is actually happening throughout California and the western US after wildfires have started destroying homes and sending insurance costs even higher than usual. “Wherever you have wildland-urban interfaces, the insurance company is looking at their exposure in those areas. Its’ because of some of the catastrophic losses that insurance companies have seen,” said supervisor Keith Caldwell.

That information had led to many homeowners receiving notices of intent to drop coverage or raise rates. This could cause a lot of financial trouble for Berryessa residents who are already struggling with steep hikes in their water and sewer bills or their property taxes. Caldwell said that he will meet with Napa County fire officials and a few others in order to talk about the classification system with the Insurance Services Office. He wants to discover if the Estates and the Highlands can bypass the “unprotected” classification by constructing some smaller fire stations that are closer to the communities. He said that he has been scouting possible locations with the fire department already, although building the station won’t result in any instant change to the classification.

“Just because you put a station up doesn’t mean you have a new classification,” he noted. Caldwell believes the communities have enough volunteers to help staff the stations and their water systems will be strong enough to meet the qualifications of having the stations present. They will need to be able to pump 250 gallons of water per minute for two hours at least. “We believe we have the volunteers,” Caldwell said. “I think we’re in good shape, but it’s going to take some time to put this together.” At that point, the county would have to proceed with the process of acquiring land. They have already reached out to the Bureau of Land Management for a potential site option.