San Diego summer fires cause home insurance jitters (2024)

San Diego summer fires cause home insurance jitters (1)

City of San Diego posts map with risky areas in red

Author

Mike Madriaga

Publish Date

July 2, 2024

While there were fires all over the county on July 1, including areas by and in Mount Hope, Jacumba, Lake Morena, San Diegans in other neighborhoods got more reason to worry, as many recently lost home insurance coverage.

College Area resident Gail Fogelman said AAA recently canceled her policy. "It appears that a number of these insurance companies just went out of California," she said on June 30. "The rear of my lot is a steep downslope and meets the rear downslope of the home behind me, thus creating a 'canyon.' AAA said they no longer cover homes on canyons as they are a fire hazard." And because AAA left her high and dry, she canceled her car coverage. "If they don’t want my house, I don’t want their insurance at all."

San Diego summer fires cause home insurance jitters (3)

M. Lopez lives in Normal Heights. "So now, with the new fire hazard maps, Adams Avenue North is considered a high fire hazard zone," she said in a recent plea to her mid-city neighbors on NextDoor. "And even though we are two blocks out of the red area, our insurance issued a non-renewal notice for close proximity to the fire zone. I have tried countless other companies, and no one is insuring our area, especially with pre-1950 homes."

I sent Lopez a direct message to see if she had obtained insurance by now; as of press time, she had not replied.

The red zone area she's referring to is on the "Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zone Map" posted on the City of San Diego website.

"The purpose of this map is to classify lands in accordance with whether a very high fire hazard (red zone) is present so that public officials are able to identify measures that will retard the rate of fire spread and reduce the intensity of uncontrolled fire through vegetation management and implementation of building standards developed to minimize loss of life, resources and property."

But the problem is that many homeowners, like M. Lopez and Fogelman, are in the white zone outside of the red zone.

San Diego summer fires cause home insurance jitters (4)

The red zone's perimeters reach as far east as Ramona, west to La Jolla, north to Escondido/Valley Center, and south to Imperial Beach — then many parts of the county are in between.

Beverly L., who owns a home south of Grossmont College, said, "I got that mail also from AAA [and there has] never been a fire in my area… the HOA annually hires a herd of goats for fire abatement work. I’m not sure what to do. Guess I need to call and talk to someone."

Fogelman told me on June 30 that she "found other insurance. It’s called Connect and is part of, I think, American Families Insurance."

Some homeowners say that the 1985 Normal Heights fire—which destroyed 76 houses and damaged 57, the worst brush fire in San Diego at that time—might be why people in the mid-city area are losing their insurance coverage. This isn't true.

Dorothy P., whose Normal Heights house burned in the 1985 fire, said, "Farmers Insurance covered us completely. I live a few blocks southeast of the canyon and still have them. I called to see if my insurance would go up, but they said I wasn’t in the fire zone. I read that some insurance companies stopped coverage because of the closeness of houses to each other." In photos posted online, houses with granny flats in the Normal Heights neighborhood appear a foot apart.

Fogelman suggested being proactive against the fires. She planted an ice plant behind their fence going down to the lowest point of the canyon. "I also make sure the weeds are cleared. And any dried-up plants are pulled out so as not to create a fire hazard."

There’s actually some spray you can spray on your house ... to make it more fire resistant."

In 2018, ABC 10 News reported on a North County man who applied Thermo Gel to his home. In the newscast, a demonstration showed that a house protected with the gel did not catch on fire while the structure a couple of feet away was engulfed in fire.

The gel company's site says it "is a water gelling agent that aids water in structure protection, fire suppression, and retardation, is US Forest Service approved and non-toxic and safe for use on trees and vegetation."

Others who were dropped said they picked up coverage from Bamboo and Wawanesa.

The FAIR Plan came up on online forums as a resource for San Diegans who couldn't get home insurance. It's "a syndicated fire insurance pool comprised of all insurers licensed to conduct property/casualty business in California," reads the site in part.

"While we will support homeowners regardless of a property’s fire risk, unlike traditional insurers, our goal is attrition. For most homeowners, the FAIR Plan is a temporary safety net – here to support them until coverage offered by a traditional carrier becomes available."

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San Diego summer fires cause home insurance jitters (2024)
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