Hundreds of Concerned Residents Attend Fire Insurance Town Hall

AUBURN -- Placer County picked a large building at the fairgrounds to hold a meeting Wednesday about fire insurance but it could barely hold the number of people who attended.

Hundreds worried about being able to afford, or even still receive, fire insurance.

"Hoping to get some clarity. Hoping to get some information," said Auburn resident Judy Benney.

Benney said she was recently informed her insurance company was dropping her fire coverage altogether.

"It's alarming because I have to have fire insurance for my mortgage," she explained.

State Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara told the crowd he hears them.

"We know that underinsurance and non-renewals continue to be a massive issue,” Lara said. “So many of you are underinsured because the price is already unaffordable to be able to get full coverage for your properties."

Lara outlined some of the solutions the state is working on. One that was met with applause is a bill that would require insurance companies to cover a home that has been certified as "hardened," another way of saying fire-resistant.

On that note, Lara said he wants the state to come up with clear standards to identify a fire-resistant structure.

Lawmakers are also considering a bill that would give financial assistance to people who can't afford the improvements to make their home more fire safe.

Another bill would require insurance companies to give 180 days notice before raising rates.

Some in the crowd were skeptical.

“We're here to hear what he's going to do to prevent our insurance rates from going up three or four hundred percent, and I haven't heard anything today that indicates that he's got any plan for that," said Cool resident Lon Milka.

Milka said his fire insurance premium went up 300%. His property borders state land.

“The property's been ignored by the federal and state government for fire protection forever. It's overgrown," he explained.

One homeowner from Meadow Vista also shared that concern Wednesday night.

"I think there are some other things too,” he said. “I worry about if you come down too hard on the insurance companies, they start pulling out of California. They don't write here anymore and if that happens, then that exacerbates the problem."

With 10 of the state's 20 most destructive fires happening in just the past three years, it's a complex problem requiring new solutions.

"This is a perfect opportunity for us to come together as a state to really find these solutions that are critical for Californians," Lara said.

Another problem the insurance commissioner said needs to be addressed is that insurance companies often base fire risk on satellite imagery instead of sending somebody to physically inspect a property.

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