Residents of Fresno County mountain communities fear higher fire insurance rates

SQUAW VALLEY, Calif. (KFSN) -- According to Cal Fire, we remain in peak fire season and as the drought continues, some rural California residents fear their fire insurance rates will keep climbing.

Just last week, Assemblyman Jim Patterson met with Fresno County mountain residents to hear them out on what they say is an ever increasing cost to protect their homes from fires.

The chief of the Mountain Valley Fire Department say his volunteers are well trained to start fire suppression before Cal Fire arrives. And even though they have the ability to get to and fight flames fast, Greg Bardorf says that doesn't matter when it comes to how they're classified based on their fire risk.

On a one to ten scale, they're a 10, meaning the area's fire suppression program is not up to par. And members of communities like Dunlap and Squaw Valley say they are being hit hard with high fire insurance rates from insurance companies that rely on that class system. "I have to explain to them that if they are further than five miles from a yearly staffed firehouse, that they're going to pay a lot more for fire insurance, if they can get it at all," Bardorf said.

"Certainly we don't have the level of risk that would dictate that we should be saddled with the kind of insurance rates that we are," said Squaw Valley Real Estate's Lonnie Work.

During the Rough Fire, Work says insurance companies placed a moratorium on writing any new insurance policies in nearby mountain communities, causing real estate transactions to be put on hold or fall apart.

For anyone thinking of moving to the area, they also have to remember the annual $150 Fire Prevention Fee. It's a fee residents say is going towards education, not prevention. They say it could be going towards equipping volunteers like the Mountain Valley Fire Department, and thus lowering the fire risk class and possibly reducing sky-high insurance rates. "We're kind of like stepchildren up here in the mountains. We're good for revenue, but we're not good for anything else," Bardorf said.

Bardorf says he's also paying up for fire insurance, not just for his house but for his Dunlap restaurant, which costs around $8,000 a year to protect. The costs are steep, but at the end of the day most residents will tell you that the area's natural beauty is worth the extra money. "The quality of life here is certainly worth the extra amount that you're going to have to pay for insurance," Work said. "It's unfortunate that you do, but it certainly shouldn't be the deciding measure as to whether you do."

The Oak to Timberline Fire Safe Council will hold a meeting in Pinehurst on December 10th at 6 pm. There, mountain residents can sign up to become fire-wise certified, one possible way they can reduce their insurance rates.
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