Regional Public Journalism
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Some Property Insurers Pulling Back From Highest Wildfire Risk Areas

U.S. Forest Service
File photo. Some insurance companies are choosing not to renew policies in wildfire-prone areas.

Some insurance companies are choosing not to renew policies in wildfire-prone areas of the inland Northwest. That’s sending home owners scrambling to find new coverage for their properties.

Northwest-based insurers such as Pemco and Grange Insurance are getting choosier about how much risk they'll take on. This according to property owners who've been dropped recently and posted about their frustrations online.?

One customer from Chelan, Washington, complained Pemco refused to renew her homeowners insurance despite 17 years with no claims. The common thread among the non-renewals is location in wildfire country.  ?Baker City, Oregon is another location with reports of tighter underwriting since late last year.

Oregon's insurance regulators looked into this and said some insurers updated their wildfire risk rating models. ?

“There have been some non-renewals, rate increases, and moratoriums on new business, because updated risk models showed certain areas to be at especially high risk of wildfires,” wrote Jake Sunderland, a Department of Consumer and Business Services spokesman, in an email. ?

"It is not an industry wide trend," saidNorthwest Insurance Council President Kenton Brine. "It's specific to specific companies."

Brine said insurance companies would be acting irresponsibly if they did not pay attention to trends of increasing wildfire frequency and intensity and adjust their risk exposure accordingly.

"Those are decisions companies have to make to continue to provide products and services," Brine said in an interview Tuesday.

The tally of homes lost to Pacific Northwest wildfires ran into the hundreds a couple years ago, but insured damages appear much lower this year. ?

Brine said there are literally hundreds of companies that have a certificate to write property insurance in Washington state alone. He acknowledged that being non-renewed "can be jarring news for a consumer, but they have many other options open to them."

Around 10 non-renewed policy holders have complained to the Washington State Insurance Commissioner. A spokeswoman there said they are advising people to shop around and see what other companies will offer. ?

Large, national insurance providers appear to be staying in the market according to Washington’s Office of the Insurance Commissioner. Oregon's DCBS said it knew of no insurer who had completely exited the state due to wildfires.  ?

Wildfire is a covered peril under standard homeowners, renters and business owners insurance policies. Property insurers are not required to report to the Oregon or Washington insurance departments when they choose to non-renew policies. ?

Grange Insurance Association did not return a message requesting comment. A Pemco spokesman referred questions to Brine at the Northwest Insurance Council.

Now semi-retired, Tom Banse covered national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reported from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events unfolded. Tom's stories can be found online and were heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.