Friday, May 24, 2024

DeBorgia homeowner warns of rising insurance premiums in wildfire prone areas

Mineral Independent | April 3, 2024 12:00 AM

A decade ago, Cristy Carriles and her husband moved from Spokane to DeBorgia and bought a nice home in a wooded area less than a half mile from the old DeBorgia School.  

Everything that they own has been insured by Allstate Insurance, and everything has clicked along fine until she recently received a letter from them. 

“They said they were going to send out an inspector and they are doing it with everyone in the area,” she explained. “It said the inspector does not come in the house. Then the inspector called and said he was coming out if that day worked for us, which it did. He didn’t come into the house but walked around the area taking a bazillion pictures. And within a month, we got our report.” 

The Carriles received word that their house did not pass the exterior inspection and unless they performed forest mitigation, their insurance would be cancelled as of May 30. Everything else they have with Allstate Insurance will remain insured, but thinning of trees, etc. to avoid structure fires must take place. 

A call to the Forest Service in Superior transferred her to the 9-Mile Ranger Station to discuss a fire assessment survey, and this was the first time that they had heard of anything like this. 

“At 9-Mile, they said, ‘If they are doing it to you, then they are going to be doing it to everyone,’” Carriles shared.

According to BankRate, a standard homeowners insurance policy includes coverage for wildfire, but coverage may not be included in high-risk wildfire areas. Wildfires also go by other names depending on what region you live in. Home insurance usually also covers forest fires and brush fires. You may also need to be prepared to pay higher premiums compared to homes in areas that don’t face severe wildfire risk.

“I received a call from Cristy and she was a little upset and worried about losing her insurance and asked if there was anything the fire department could do, so I headed over to look at the problem,” said Frank Magee, Chief of the West End Volunteer Fire Department. “The property looked really good,” he said. “I mean it looks like she rakes under the trees to get the needles out. It’s a very well-maintained piece of property.” 

Magee also thinks that the Carriles case is going to be the first of many.

Magee has already spoken to the Mineral County Commissioners about obtaining Title III money for fuel mitigation for houses in the West End fire district. 

Three years ago, about $50,000 was awarded from the commissioners through Title III for the same purpose and he hopes that they receive that amount, but more would be appreciated and used. Magee explained that the WEVFD does not do the actual tree thinning, but he is spearheading the project and for anyone from mile marker 22 on I-90 to the state line to call him with concerns or questions at (208) 651-7700. 

He said that Willy Peck, Mineral County Resource Use Coordinator, will handle the process of forest mitigation and will make arrangements with tree-services to cut and haul debris. “We really want to get a jump on this as none of us believe that this is going to be an isolated case,” said Magee.

According to insurance provider, it is recommended that homeowners keep trees trimmed so that no branches are hanging over a roof or within 30 feet of a home. This is the "defensible space," a buffer between a dwelling and the grass, trees and shrubs. Creating this space may protect a home from catching fire from direct flames or radiant heat. 

Other strong recommendations include:

Remove all dead plants, grass, weeds, leaves, and pine needles from the yard, roof, and rain gutters.

Keep trees trimmed so that branches are 10 feet from other trees.

Keep dead branches 10 feet away from the chimney.

Relocate wood piles so they are 100 feet away from the home, deck, or other structures.