Troubles Continue for California Wildfire Victims

As horrible as a crisis is to go through, there’s usually a silver lining. You know that eventually it will be over and you can get back to normal.

But what happens when the first crisis is replaced by a second one? And what do you do when the second crisis lasts even longer than the original one?

That’s what many people in California are experiencing right now. Tens of thousands of the state’s residents lost their homes in wildfires the past couple of years.

As if that weren’t traumatic enough, now there’s a new problem. It’s taking too long to rebuild houses. So, their insurance funds are running out. Soon many of them may be homeless.

Insurance Funds Running Out

One family in Santa Rosa lost their home in an October 2017 fire. They’ve been living in a temporary home given to them by insurance since then.

But with the funds running out, the family will have to split up. Some family members will live in an RV and some in a hotel.

They hope their replacement home will be finished soon. But there’s no assurance of that under the circumstances.

This family is typical of many victims of slow property cleanup. And bureaucratic delays and battles with coverage groups.

Slow Rebuilding Process

Keith Woods is the CEO of the North Coast Builders Exchange. His company is handling construction of homes in Santa Rosa and surrounding areas.

“The process takes so long because of the number of homes that were lost,” Woods said.

He estimates that only one-third of the 5,000-plus homes that were lost in the 2017 Tubbs Fire will have been rebuilt by the end of 2019. And he said it will be even worse to the north where Paradise was wiped out last year.

“When you have a limited number of contractors and workers up there for construction even before the fires, they’ve got a real uphill climb,” he added.

2.7 Million Californians at High Risk

According to a report published in the Sacramento Bee newspaper, 2.7 million Californians live in areas considered at a “very high hazard” risk for wildfires.

Approximately 1/12th of the homes in California are in those areas. The “high risk” regions include 187 cities.

There is a limit to how much state officials can do to lessen the frequency of fires. And to lower the impact of the fires that do rage.

Among them are forest-thinning projects. The fewer trees and vegetation there are in forests, the less there is to help spread fires.

‘A Home Ignition Problem’

But environmental groups are not onboard with that tactic. They believe the focus should be on making homes more fire-resistant.

Rick Halsey is from the California Chaparral Institute. He said, “We have a home ignition problem. Not a vegetation control problem.”

He wants money to be spent on fireproofing measures. Such as ember-resistant vents and fire-resistant roofs.

Halsey added that a greater effort needs to be placed on teaching people how to avoid starting fires.

“There are so many people on the landscape causing so many unnatural ignitions,” he said.

Population Growth Rate Slows

Are people in California getting sick and tired of wildfires? Well, the population growth rate last year was the slowest in state history.

California is still the country’s most populous state. But the population was 39.9 million entering the year and did not pass the 40 million mark.

That was due to a decline in births. Plus a slowdown in immigration and some folks leaving due to the number of fires.

It is predicted that by 2051, California will have more deaths than births. Even if the population grows to 50 million by then.

Fire Insurance Future Is Sketchy

In the more immediate future, California homeowners may be in even worse shape than they are now.

Wildfires will undoubtedly continue in California. And will probably get worse if drought continues. Fire coverage is likely to be even more hard on the wallet. Or nonexistent.

Amy Bach is executive director of United Policy Holders. It’s a consumer advocacy group.

“We have a big problem in this state,” she said. “Given that insurers have a decreasing appetite for covering wildfire risk in California. And utilities are pushing back and saying (they) don’t want to be that source, either.”

Without serious and sustained action on housing, the Californian lifestyle of incredible scenery, quality of life, and diversity will only be available to an increasingly select few who can afford it.

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