By KEVIN C. MURPHY
My father is a retired Montana smoke jumper, tasked with jumping out of DC4s while wearing beekeeper suits in 1949 and 1950. If you’ve seen the movie A River Runs Through It, or perhaps read the book written by Norman Maclean, you get a little history of Montana. But Maclean wrote another book: Young Men and Fire, the classic 1949 story of a blaze that took the lives of 13 firefighters. Fortunately for our family, Dad jumped into another fire two days prior and was not on the team that was called to fight, but those were his friends and team members. He barely talks about that time of loss. Today, he is 90 and the oldest practicing CPA in Nevada. Growing up and adventuring with Dad resulted in a few stories about those days, and the deep respect I now have for the danger of wildfire that I use to direct my actions as owner of a local insurance company.
The year 2018 marked the highest insured losses from wildfire in California’s history. To summarize statistics quoted by Cal Fire, as of Nov. 8, 2018 the state saw:
• 8,527 total declared fires
• $19 billion in estimated insured losses (as of Dec. 12, 2018)
• 10,564 total home losses
• 17,955 partial home losses
• 350 total business losses
• >10,000 auto, RV, and other related claims
• >1.65 million acres burned
• 98 civilian and six firefighters’ lives lost (RIP)
Last year was a fire insurance disaster and 2017 was almost as bad! Estimates are over $40 billion in losses for just those two years. As the flight for a lifestyle away from our population centers accelerates, so, too, does exposure to fire as more people carelessly populate amidst our densely forested areas.
Professionally, I’m a seasoned insurance broker with 40 years of experience both on the company level and here in Truckee as a broker. My job is to provide products that protect our clients from the dangers of fire, and more recently, the increasing dangers of wildfire. We have four members of our team tasked with helping clients with fire insurance, and in my 40 years of insurance experience, I’ve never seen the marketplace so difficult. Every policy placement is a battle.
January 2019 marked the beginning of what I’m calling the “Near Collapse of the Homeowner’s Insurance Market.” After billions in losses, insurance carriers have had enough, and the result is a massive contraction for insurance availability. In 2018, my company, Sierra Insurance Associates, had access to over 25 homeowner’s insurance programs. In just the last three months, we’re down to seven. A few of these are national markets, some smaller, and the remainder are surplus lines or the California FAIR plan.
We’re still providing many options for our clients, but those with exposure to open space face the greatest pain — which means price.
Call to Action – What Can You Do?
• Do everything in your power to keep your current insurance coverage.
• If you have coverage, make sure you pay your premium invoice — don’t get cancelled!
• If you’re in a homeowners association or equivalent, demand relaxing CC&R’s and bylaws to provide greater flexibility for fire mitigation and safety.
• Get your community or association designated as “Fire Safe” and demand compliance with California’s Wildland code. Go to: readyforwildfire.org for information.
• Get an inspection from your local fire department and fix everything recommended.
• Attend municipal, HOA, and fire department board meetings and let them know you support fire safety as a community priority.
• Have an evacuation plan. If a fire happens July 4th, know where to go.
Let’s get fire safe and with that will come more reasonable insurance premiums!
~ Kevin C. Murphy is a 28-year Truckee resident and owner of Sierra Insurance Associates, Inc. He is a former director for Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company, performed merger acquisition consulting, and worked with Stanford Research Institute to design PML models. He has been elected locally and is both member and chair of several nonprofit boards. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.