Insurance Demands for Fire Mitigation May Mean Change

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On June 10h, State Farm Insurance Company mailed 12,000 letters to homeowners in six Western states to alert them that inspectors would be visiting their properties to take photos which would help to assess their risk from wildfire. These letters are now being said to possibly change the look of Colorado Springs and foothills neighborhoods across the west. It doesn’t particularly matter if you are a State Farm customer. If you live in an area known as a “red zone” which is amid scrub oak, pine trees, junipers, and other plants like those who are living in the Pikes Peak region, the decision by the largest property and casualty insurer in the country to focus more plainly on defensible space is quite significant.

State Farm insurances around 22 percent of all Colorado homes, which according to the Department of Regulatory Agencies, is collecting around $336 million in premiums a year. Therefore, if it tells 1 in 4 homeowners to cut down their trees or else, that would change the complexion of the entire community rather noticeably. Knowing that the rest of the industry generally follows the top leader, it means that many are starting to see what is upcoming for homes within the red zone. In Colorado Springs, residents can find a home’s wildfire rating by checking the city’s website. State Farm and the entire industry has put a new emphasis on wildfire mitigation after the massive Hayman fire west of Colorado Springs in 2002. State Farm then implemented a “wildfire loss prevention program” the following year and began assessing properties throughout regions that they determined to be at risk. This later expanded to Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, Montana, Washington, and California.

For some time, the program went into a maintenance mode during 2007. That changed after last summer’s Waldo Canyon fire, which killed two people and destroyed 347 homes in Mountain Shadows. Letters then went out a few months later, which was followed by the latest mailing on June 10th. There are many people who have received inspection letters and follow-up letters which told them to cut down every bush, tree, and shrub within 100 feet of their homes. If they don’t, then they will face the cancellation of their policies. The company is even giving homeowners 18 months to comply. One spokeswoman said that the reason that State Farm is giving homeowners so much time is because they realize that there is some additional cost associated with having trees removed.

"Our recommendation is to cut all trees," said spokeswoman Angela Thorpe. "Trees are fuels for fire. Any potential fuels we recommend removing." She added that the company users inspectors that are trained by state forestry agency experts and that it relies on fire mitigation standards created by the National Fire Protection Association’s FireWise wildfire safety program. "We recommend cutting all trees within 100 feet of a house," Thorpe said, noting the defensible-space perimeter recommended by FireWise recently was increased from its previous 30-foot to 50-foot standard.