North County homeowners try everything to keep fire insurance

Steve Sedio noticed a few brush fires in his Valley Center area in the last three weeks. “We did have one fire that alerted us quickly because it was very close to my [PurpleAir] sensor,” he said. “It was even closer to the CalFire Valley Center Fire Station on Vesper.”

Then, according to fire officials, there were two other larger fires in Valley Center, northeast of Escondido. On August 2, Cal Fire San Diego responded and put out a 5.5-acre blaze by Calle Oro Verde; on July 16, Cal Fire San Diego assessed an 8-acre fire that threatened buildings by Couser Canyon Road and Lilac Road.

People in North County are growing worried about the recent fires and heatwaves because many have lost their fire insurance coverage. Sedio, a retired engineer turned inventor, was able to keep his fire insurance, but not for too long, as it “is leaving California.”

“Last year, our area went from a mix of [moderate to] high fire risk to all high fire risk.” Then his home insurance doubled in the last year.

Leslie Grimes lives by Sedio. “I do know that most Facebook groups are filled with people posting about their insurance being canceled and forced onto the California FAIR Plan,” she said in a recent interview. “I didn’t get canceled, but the amount I paid tripled in cost, and even with that, it left me underinsured. The insurance uses a rating system the government assigns.”

The Insurance Services Office provides a fire rating score backed by the fire departments and insurance companies. The score generally shows how prepared an area and community are for fires — like fire departments, water supply in the vicinity, and other factors. The better the score, the lower the insurance premium; on the flip side, the lower scores can deny fire coverage.

Rachael posted that she’s been trying to get home insurance covering fires so they can rent out their home. “We checked with 23 companies today, and none offer new policies in California. They said we could get home insurance that doesn’t cover fires and then get California’s FAIR Plan to cover fires, which would probably cost double what we’re paying now.”

“The FAIR Plan is a temporary safety net,” reads their website; it’s a fire insurance pool made up of insurers licensed to conduct casualty and property business in California. “In the last decade, more Californians have turned to the Plan as wildfires have devastated California and some insurers have pulled back from these markets.”

The original story was published in the print edition of the San Diego Reader in August of 2023.

Rachael’s post garnered 98 comments; many live in North County and don’t have fire coverage.

John O. updated his Facebook group on how he was able to get fire coverage on their insurance policy with a 20 percent increase in price. “Got a letter from Progressive, my current insurer, that I had to document my house was fire safe with defensible space. Some of the standards they quoted were pretty much impossible to meet, but I did my best. I had the Valley Center fire department come out and give me a complimentary inspection for defensible space. I followed their instructions to the letter, sent in their report and pictures of the work that was completed, and today, received acknowledgment that they will continue our policy.”

Sedio, who I spoke with earlier in this article, was extra proactive when he got word that his insurer, like others, is bailing from the California market. He recently purchased and applied some wildfire-blocking gel around his home and looked into the WEEDS wildfire protection system.

Sedio has installed PurpleAir exterior smoke detectors in North County funded by Valley Center Wireless. The fire intel gathered by his sensors is relayed to the AQISPY/TwisterKat phone app he’s helped develop. “The system was established to provide early warning during Santa Ana-driven fires,” he said. “One night, there was a structure fire one mile upwind of a sensor.”

Like John above, Sedio hopes his proactiveness will help lock him in a good insurance policy. “I’ll need state fire insurance augmented with a company-sourced loss and liability insurance.”