California bans insurers from dropping customers in wake of largest wildfire | Natural fires

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California on Thursday temporarily banned insurance companies from dropping customers in areas hit by the latest wildfires, a day after evacuation orders were lifted for residents near a two-week-old fire that has become the state’s largest so far this year.

Several days of sporadic rain helped firefighters reach 60% containment of the Mosquito Fire in the Sierra foothills about 110 miles (177 km) northeast of San Francisco. At least 78 homes and other structures have been destroyed since the flames broke out on Sept. 6, charring forested areas across Placer and El Dorado counties.

Sheriff’s officials in both counties announced Wednesday that they were lifting the last of the evacuation orders that kept about 11,000 people out of their homes during the fire’s height.

Total containment of the 310 square kilometer mosquito fire is expected around October 15.

Last week, the fire surpassed the size of the previous largest fire of 2022 — the McKinney fire — although this season has seen a fraction of last year’s wildfire activity so far.

California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara on Thursday invoked a law aimed at protecting homeowners in the wildfire-plagued state who say they are being pushed out of the commercial insurance market.

Lara ordered insurers to preserve home insurance for a year for Californians who live near one of several large wildfires that have burned across the state in recent weeks.

The California Department of Insurance estimates the moratorium will affect policies covering about 236,000 people in parts of Placer, El Dorado and Riverside counties.

“Wildfires are devastating even if you haven’t lost your home, so it’s absolutely critical to give people some breathing room after a disaster. This is not the time to be looking for insurance,” Lara said in a statement.

The law was implemented in 2019 when more than 15 large wildfires burned homes across the state.

Scientists say climate change has made the West hotter and drier over the past three decades and will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive. In the past five years, California has experienced the largest and most destructive fires in its history.

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