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Homeowners Losing Fire Insurance Policies Over Wildfire Risk

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — California's drought may officially be over, but the effects are still having a huge impact, especially as fire season kicks up.

The state estimates that there are more than 100 million dead trees due to the drought, which makes them fuel for wildfires. As a result, Placer County officials say they have seen an increase in residents who received nonrenewal notices from their insurance companies.

"If I don't get homeowners insurance, unfortunately, it will eventually push me into foreclosure," explained Greg Staab, a retired volunteer firefighter, who is on a fixed income.

Forest fire or not, the Staab family worries about losing their home of 19 years. Staab's insurance company sent him a list of what to fix, but meeting those mandates is no simple task, especially when dealing with 200-foot trees.

"Every one of them would have to be climbed up. Each limb dropped down with a rope. Get all the way to the top and cut those into 5-foot sections. And drop those down because of the power lines and the house. But it costs a lot of money," explained Staab - money he says he doesn't have.

So, he turned to the county for help.

"The whole situation with the drought and the larger fires we have been seeing across the Sierra, that is a clear and present concern for insurance companies," said John McEldowney, a program manager with the Office of Emergency Services at Placer County.

He says they have been working at the state level to come up with solutions. In the meantime, they have been asking insurance companies to show leniency towards homeowners who have made significant changes to their property.

"We are trying to establish that the defensible space and other mitigation efforts be taken into account. They work, and there is science behind it," said McEldowney.

And there is a catch. Even if homeowners come into full compliance, insurance companies can still cancel their policy.

Placer County officials are asking homeowners who get a letter of non-renewal to file a complaint online with the California Department of Insurance.

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