Just hours after the West Fire began torching structures Tuesday, July 27, local insurance agent Marty Pay visited the American Red Cross shelter at the old Jacobsen Jr. High to see if any of his clients had been displaced.
What he found was unsettling: Most of the fire victims had no insurance. They simply can’t afford it living in such a rural area, he said.
Pay estimated that residents living in Old West Ranch would expect to pay between 40 and 100 percent more for insurance than those living within the city limits.
Allstate senior sales producer Jenna Cass agreed, saying most Old West Ranch residents do not have insurance because it is too difficult to obtain.
The community is more than five miles from a fire station, a huge red flag to insurance companies, Cass said.
Cass said Old West Ranch is a “brush area.” She said it’s getting harder and harder for rural areas near Tehachapi to obtain affordable insurance.
“It’s starting to be a real issue,” she said.
Cass said some companies ask customers to clear 500 feet of defensible space around their properties, which is five times the space requested by state fire officials.
Residents can get coverage through the California Fair Access to Insurance Requirements Plan, which provides basic fire coverage only.
The plan is available for people who are rejected by at least three insurance companies, Cass said.
Property owners might also be able to purchase “wraparound” coverage, which can help fill some coverage gaps, such as theft.
This alternative insurance, however, “is not cheap,” Pay said, and a lack of insurance adds sting to an already tragic set of events, he said.
“For a lot of these people, they’ve just lost everything,” Pay said.
Roadblock to repairs
Brian McGrath, project manager for Bakersfield-based Beflor Property Restoration, said it was difficult gaining clients from Old West Ranch because so many of them are uninsured.
Without insurance, residents likely can’t afford restoration services, McGrath said.
“The fire is one thing, McGrath said. “The aftermath is a whole other thing.”
He said the company could take care of a client’s deductible, if possible.
McGrath said he had been in contact with a couple of Old West Ranch residents who need help removing smoke, ash and fire-related odors from their properties.
“Some of these places need real decontamination because 409’s just not going to take care of the soot,” he said.