California halts insurance cancellations in major wildfire areas across 22 counties

Dale Kasler, The Sacramento Bee on

Published in Business News

Wrestling with an insurance crisis that’s bedeviled much of rural California for years, the state imposed a one-year ban Monday that prevents carriers from dropping homeowners in areas affected by the Dixie Fire, Caldor Fire and other major 2021 wildfires.

The one-year moratorium, announced by Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara, affects about 325,000 homeowners. It came a month after Lara imposed a similar moratorium affecting 25,000 homeowners who live in the vicinity of the Lava and Beckwourth Complex fires.

The latest moratorium covers parts of 22 counties across Northern California and affects homeowners who live near the burn zones of the Dixie and Caldor fires — the two most destructive fires of the year — as well as the River, Tamarack, Antelope, McFarland, Monument, Fly and Cache fires.

Lara acknowledged that the moratorium isn’t a cure-all for the breakdown of the property-casualty insurance market in areas prone to wildfires. Responding to the rash of mega-fires in recent years, insurance companies have decided not to renew policies for tens of thousands of Californians.

Many end up having to buy coverage from the California FAIR Plan, the state’s “insurer of last resort,” which sells bare-bones policies that insure only against wildfire risk. By the time they’re finished purchasing separate policies covering burglary and other perils, their annual insurance bill has doubled or tripled, costing them thousands.

The insurance commissioner has been negotiating with the industry to find ways to stabilize the rural markets. In the meantime, he’s imposed one-year cancellation moratoriums each of the last three years, invoking a law he wrote while he was in the Legislature.


“My moratorium orders help provide short-term relief as we address the root causes of these ever-intensifying natural disasters,” Lara said in a prepared statement. “This California law empowers my office to help give people the breathing room they desperately need as they recover. I will both continue to enforce this law to protect consumers and continue working to create long-term solutions.”

Among other things, negotiators are trying to establish standards for home and community “hardening” — including fuel breaks, building retrofits and other measures — that would bring insurers back into areas they’ve been deserting.

The Dixie Fire, the second-largest in the state’s history, has burned 963,195 acres and destroyed 1,329 homes and other buildings. It burned most of downtown Greenville, in Plumas County, to the ground in August.

After destroying much of Grizzly Flats in rural El Dorado County, the Caldor Fire spread up Highway 50 and spilled into the Lake Tahoe basin, forcing the evacuation of the entire city of South Lake Tahoe. The fire has consumed 1,003 homes and other buildings and has chewed through 219,101 acres.

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