State Farm Insurance is getting tired of being burned by California — literally and figurately.
As of this week, they are no longer issuing new homeowners insurance policies anywhere in California.
State insurance Commission Ricardo Lara tries to paint the move as good old-fashioned greed.
Lara says State Farm is worried about short-term profits.
Not even close.
State Farm is worried about a state that is in severe denial.
*In 2017 and 2018 — a stretch that included PG&E almost succeeding in wiping out Paradise, a city of 26,000 people at one point, off the face of the earth — cost roughly double the underwriting profit California insurers had incurred in the previous 26 years in in the Golden State.
*Lara will not allow insurers to adequately increase rates to cover increased fire risks that also includes skyrocketing construction costs.
*California requires rates to be based on history, and not current conditions, including in areas under increased fire risk exposure due to drought and development.
To top that off, the insurance commissioner’s office adopted wildfire zone discounts for homeowners that institute mitigation measures to reduce risk.
That sounds good, but then insurance companies aren’t allowed to offset the cost of such discounts by raising rates on other homeowners they insure.
All of this while the majority of politicians in Sacramento remind Californians on a daily basis that climate change is a clear and present danger.
Climate exacerbates conditions such as drought that leads to more wildfires.
That, in turn, means more losses for insurance firms. Losses that the insurance companies have to be able to cover by a combination of approaches of which increasing premiums in a sufficient manner is one of the key elements.
Climate change means we will have more and more destructive wildfires.
But it is only part of the equation.
No one can argue with observations such as the University of California, Merced research that show the Western United States fire season has grown longer due to warmer weather patterns.
Merced researchers found that the fire season between 1973 and 1982 was around 80 days longer than between 2003 and 2012. But that has everything to do with the length of conditions that exist — dry weather, winds, and such — than it does with what fuels fires.
Back in the 1860s and 1870s settlers in the Central Valley told of fires that would burn for months until the rains stopped them.
That’s how nature operated in California and the rest of the Western United States until the great migration populated coastal plains, valleys, hillsides canyons, and mountains.
Fires burned until they burned out. That’s the way things work.
Nature’s course, though, doesn’t work too well for mankind.
That’s why we suppress fires.
It’s logical to do so in urban settings but it isn’t necessarily wise to do so in the wild.
The National Interagency Fire Center that draws from all agencies that handle fires in wildlands from forests to deserts indicates in an average year there are 10,280 lighting caused fires reported. Lighting fires burn more than 3.7 million acres a year.
The average statistics, from a few years back, includes 214,644 acres in Northern California and 77,616 acres in Southern California during a typical year. The area with the least amount of lightning strikes — Alaska — has the most acres burned in a given year at 1,550,732 acres.
Given how sparsely populated and remote much of Alaska is, the effort to stop fires is at a minimum. That means in conditions that more closely represent man’s interaction in the wilderness when population was at a level that reflected native tribes’ degree of civilization, fires burn much more territory.
The increasing intensity of wildfires in terms of their destruction is due to the encroachment of urbanization, plus the buildup of brush and other fuel from years and decades of fire suppression,.
It also includes the tendency of those settling on rural property building homes near or under canopies of oaks and such that go up in flames as quickly as a dried out Christmas tree in a house kept at a nice warm 90 degrees in the dead of winter.
This is not the result of climate change. It has everything to do with where we live and the number of people there are.
If you haven’t noticed, land use policies and objectives clash non-stop.
We build where water is and when people object to that either because they have designs on development or are concerned about the environment we build in places where we have to import water.
Building on fertile valley soil irks some who point out it is gobbling up valuable farmland. They prefer urbanization to take place on land that lacks local water such as in the coastal hills.
Of course, the coastal hills in Northern California have the dry Diablo winds just as the South State has the dry Santa Ana winds. Those fall weather conditions may not have existed 10,000 years ago where they do so they could be the result of natural climate change.
But it is a stretch beyond the realms of reality to even suggest that manmade climate change is behind the biggest natural component of massive wildfires — dry and fast winds.
Using Cal Fire stats for 2022, there were 7,490 fires in their coverage area that excludes cities, national parks/forests, and fire districts. There was 362,455 acres burned, 876 structures damaged and nine deaths.
Cal Fire — unlike the Forest Service — doesn’t typically start management fires that you see smoldering in the Stanislaus Forest and Yosemite National Park to reduce brush and other fuel that can help create out of control conflagrations as the massive 257,000-acre Rim Fire that intruded into Yosemite in 2013 .
The Rim Fire was the largest fire in the Sierra and 12th largest ever in California during the blink of time man has tracked such events.
With California nipping at the 40 million population mark, development patterns will only increase the chance of more destructive wildfires and not lessen the odds.
It is not a pretty thing given the loss of life, property, and human suffering. Urbanized-style development encroachment into wildland regions has drastically changed how we attack wildfires.
Sixty years ago, massive evacuation efforts weren’t needed before being able to direct resources on containing a fire. The wildland areas were sparsely populated.
That’s no longer the case.
Sacramento needs to stop lashing out at climate deniers.
Instead, they need to concentrate on how to cope with the impact of climate change.
High on that list is making sure Californians who are at risk are able to purchase adequate — if any — homeowners insurance. If not, then the state needs to stop development in high-risk wildfire zones.
The conditions California has created and how they are not allowing insurers to prepare for clear risks flies in the face of climate change reality and essentially makes it financially impossible in the short — as well as long — run to provide insurance coverage,
This column is the opinion of editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Bulletin or 209 Multimedia. He can be reached at email@example.com