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Rising wildfire insurance costs in North Bay likely to impact state commissioner race

Wildfire insurance costs soar for North Bay residents 02:46

NAPA COUNTY (KPIX) -- It has now been four and a half years since the North Bay Wildfires signaled a new era of fire risk in our region and California.

Not only have the fires become a recurring threat, but the cost of living in fire country continues to grow. The issue is now getting attention in the race for state insurance commissioner.

Up in the very northern end of Napa County, on the edge of Pope Valley, there is the ridgeline community of Berryessa Estates. It is one of those places in Northern California that has been threatened by fire again and again and again. Even for many who have not lost homes, the cost of those fires is now making a living here almost impossible.

"We've been hit from the north," said Gail Bickett. "We've been hit from the south. We've been hit from the east. They save the most dangerous place to live in Napa County because of fire these days."

For Bicket, recent years have brought a series of evacuations and a number of close calls. While she never lost her home, it has become increasingly expensive to stay.

"What's been going up often," she said of insurance woes. "I've been canceled once by one company, and AAA took me out a few years ago. My insurance now is $3,000 a year."

For many of her neighbors, annual insurance rates have risen as high as $6,000. And that's a cost many cannot afford to pay.

"So a lot of people are just selling and moving," Bickett said.

"We've had an insurance crisis now for a number of years," Assemblymember Marc Levine said Friday. "Certainly after the 2017 North Bay fires."

Levine is making this issue the centerpiece of his campaign for state insurance commissioner. For one, he'd like to see policies -- and prices -- that reflect the effort property owners are putting into fire safety.

"People are trying to get insurance," Levine said. "They're doing everything right. They're doing home hardening, hardening their businesses. They're doing defensible space. There has not been a solution to help make sure everyone who is doing the right thing is recognized and rewarded for that."

Gail has cleared the manzanita off her property, at her own cost. Like many others, she came here because it was a place she could afford to live. Now she's not so sure.

"It's a beautiful place to live," Bickett said. "But it's a struggle."

The last year for which the state has numbers is 2020, and that year, more than 200,000 Californians had their insurance policies dropped.

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