California fire insurance premiums pricing out homeowners

Fire insurance pricing out homeowners

The Maria Fire in Southern California threatens thousands of structures and has forced almost 11,000 people to evacuate. There's no end in sight for firefighters, or for homeowners living in fire-prone areas. Many have had their insurance policies dropped and are desperate for coverage.

Frances Mann Craik is among at least 350,000 Californians whose fire insurance policies have been canceled. She had the same coverage for 18 years.

"I've paid thousands and thousands of dollars in premiums and insurance and never gotten a cent back," Craik said.   

Now Craik and homeowner Pat O'Coffey are scrambling to find coverage. O'Coffey has lived in California for 25 years and said she's never had any trouble getting insurance before.

But as wildfires in California get worse, insurance companies are limiting their exposure in fire-prone areas. They've paid over $24 billion in claims in the past two years. Fire insurance is available but at an exorbitant price. O'Coffey said she used to pay $3,800 a year. Now, she said it's up to $19,000.

Rising premiums are pricing people out of their homes despite efforts to fireproof their properties. O'Coffey even installed her own fire hydrant and water tanks.

"They inspected my property three years ago and gave us an A-plus rating but they wouldn't even pull that report out of their file," O'Coffey said.

California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara said it's time for action, except they "don't have that authority yet."

"Without expressive statutory authority from the legislature, our hands are tied," Lara said. "We are asking for that power."

Homeowners like Craik are powerless as well, one fire away from financial disaster.