Wildfires adversely affect low-income homeowners

Although it is 98% contained today, Calf Valley / Hermit’s Peak Fire The fire has been burning in New Mexico since April, becoming the largest fire in the state’s history. By the end of June, it had burned about 350,000 acres and destroyed 900 structures. More troubling, most of the counties affected have low incomes, including Mora County, which has a median household income of $28,000—far below the national average of $68,000.

When fire strikes such areas, cash-strapped homeowners find it difficult to deal with recovery, let alone protect properties in advance. a new study Found this not unusual. Forest fires disproportionately affect low-income people, partly because of fires in rural areas. The study also found that counties are at greater risk from wildfires than previously thought. To compound this, some insurance companies have stopped covering these areas, leaving little choice—and often living companies will cancel people’s plans unless they update their homes to be fireproof, which is expensive. California recently put in place measures to protect those and, if it works, it could provide a policy model for other states.

The researchers found a strong overlap between wildfire risk and high poverty rates, debunking myths that primarily stem from “people with second homes or . . . in wealthy homes,” School of Public and International at the University of Georgia. Matthew Auer, dean of affairs, and a co-author of the study who was running forests magazine. They found more counties in wildfire-prone areas than ever before, thanks to higher-quality data First Street Foundation, a nonprofit that provides a national wildfire risk model that is higher-resolution and more up-to-date than data from the U.S. Forest Service. And the vast majority of people in those counties are low-income and under-served. Of the 12 states most prone to wildfires, 60% of the counties are designated as high poverty.

What’s more, insurers contribute to residents’ financial hardship. There has been an exodus of insurance companies from these areas, leaving only a few to dominate the market, which enables them to increase coverage costs. “There are comparatively few insurance companies making the risk decisions for most homeowners,” Auer says.

Often, insurers threaten not to renew plans, or cancel them outright, unless homeowners make substantial property changes, including fireproofing roofs, windows and walls, removal of vegetation and debris, and exterior buildings such as This includes placing the shed at least 30 feet away from the property. This can happen for new home builders effective cost To carry out this work (though depending on the material, it could cost more than $44,000). Still, these reports do not consider low-income people who need to retrofit existing homes. “Define what we’re talking about,” Auer says, emphasizing that no matter where you live, these types of requirements have a different impact. “If we’re talking about people in Ventura County, California, it’s one thing. If we’re talking about people in Mora or San Miguel County in New Mexico, it’s another.

Even in California, a relatively prosperous state compared to New Mexico, wildfires affect mostly low-income people. in present, McKinney WildfireThe state, this year’s largest, covers 56,000 acres in Siskiyou County, and was 0% contained as of Tuesday. The median household income for Siskiyou County is $47,000.

But California is the first state to have a policy designed to help residents stay uninsured. protected from wildfire The program reserves federal funds for residents in wildfire-prone areas to make necessary and specified updates to their homes, in order to qualify for appropriate insurance policies. They will also require insurers to create wildfire risk scores and share them with consumers, according to an email from the California Insurance Commissioner’s office, so that both parties know what they need to do to be eligible for coverage. need to make changes. The state would provide oversight and allow consumers to appeal.

The state hopes that this will also serve as an incentive for insurance companies to remain in the state, as this should reduce complaints. What remains to be seen, Auer says, is whether companies do a “fair, reliable, empirically sound job” when calculating risk scores. “But my guess would be that the companies that have the most market share are going to take it very seriously.”

This is the first year of its implementation, so it is too early to assess its success. Hope this will deter people from buying insurance of last resort, where high risk individuals have to buy coverage from the state at a premium higher than the market rates. “If Safe from Wildfire is successful, it should begin to reduce the number of people who have to take out that high-risk pool insurance,” Auer says.

It could also provide a model for other states as wildfires worsen, Auer says. But many fire-prone states are less politically progressive, including Idaho, Oklahoma and Texas, and Republican legislators may be reluctant to spend public dollars. Still, Auer says it can’t come down to that. Insurance providers can voluntarily create policies to avoid government interference, such as producing wildfire risk scores, as they have been forced to do in California. “because if [they] Don’t, [they’ll] It will have to be tackled down the road as a rule,” he says.

Meanwhile, Auer recommended more widespread adoption. community wildfire protection plans (CWPP). These involve a range of stakeholders, including local government, nonprofits, businesses, homeowners, and homeowners’ associations, and use robust data for wildfire preparedness, response planning, and recovery options. prepare. The best CWPPs—like Boulder, Colorado—address questions on a granular level, including: Are there natural barriers to restrict the movement of fires? Have the roads been developed enough to accommodate trucks to fight the fire? Is there enough water flow for firefighters, and are there any reservoirs nearby?

The best thing about CWPPs, Auer says, is that it naturally bridges the common interests of all involved, rather than feeling like a regulatory or government mandate. And they can be simple. “Just starting out and wrapping your mind around that work is better than nothing,” he says. After all, for such complex situations and fast-spreading disasters, individual approaches only go so far. If a neighbor is affected, so will you. “The solution going forward is probably going to take the form of all hands on deck,” he says.

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