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Fire Marshall: New Fire Maps Won't Raise Insurance

Residents gathered Tuesday night to learn about new fire hazard maps drafted by state firefighters.

Will homeowners see a rate hike on their insurance if new state-issued fire maps are approved?

That's what residents asked the Orange County Fire Authority during an information meeting in the Saddleback Room of the Tuesday night.

Frustrated property owners from newly-designated high risk zones sat down to listen to the OCFA’s presentation on fire hazards. But after 20 minutes, several audience members voiced their impatience and expressed their concerns about rising insurance costs.

Earlier this month, city leaders postponed a vote to approve new state fire maps.

There's nothing to worry about, Fire Marshall Laura Blaul said.

“It’s not based on the maps,” Blaul said. “We talked with insurance companies, they say it’s not based on the maps.”

Several attendees shared their doubts about Blaul’s statement. One man called her statement “cow excrement.”

Blaul, Mayor Pro Tem and the City Attorney were in attendance trying to answer everyone’s questions, mainly trying to quell homeowners' worries that they would see their insurance coverage cost increase or even lose their policies.

Blaul said insurers don't care about the state's maps.

"They are looking at the risk criteria," Blaul said. "How much separation do you have from the brush? They are looking at a number of factors; roads, and distance from fire stations. They are not looking at the hazard maps. They said they have their own models."

Many property owners were not convinced. Some argued that Blaul's statement might not be true due to their inside knowledge on insurance companies. 

Blaul said that according to the state department of insurance, it is illegal for insurance companies to suddenly raise rates just because of new maps. 

The best thing the OCFA can do for the property owners according to Blaul is to help mitigation of property.

Several citizens suggested removing brush, trees, or any vegetation that could fuel brushfires. The idea is to show insurance companies that their homes are not as hazardous as the map suggests.

One citizen whose son-in-law is a fire captain said that to make this effort a success, the entire neighborhood has to be involved. If one house remains a hazard, it could put other houses at risk. 

Kime Goodrum March 01, 2012 at 12:36 AM
I was at the meeting and thought some of the participants got kind of rude with the presenters but were frustrated because the presenters didn’t follow the printed format. I was frustrated when pointing out that my community of Califia and neighboring Auburn ridge which are next to a canyon are pretty secure as the homes all have stucco outside, a minimum of vertical wood trim and tile roofs and the roofs are sealed. That means blowing embers can’t get under the tiles and burn the house buy starting an attic fire that no one sees. There is also 200 feet of green belt area between the homes and the fuel and even then the fuel is pretty sparse as it gets near the homes. After the green belt the only thing that could really catch fire in my area are palm trees or others from blowing embers but assuming anyone was home at the time a garden hose could take care of that. They never addressed that safety issue in my area but went on to point out in Yorba Linda how palm trees and Unsealed Roofs cause housing losses in wind driven fires a few years ago. To be continued
Kime Goodrum March 01, 2012 at 12:37 AM
The presenters also double talked us that FEMA was tired of paying for losses in California and mandated the State draw new fire maps. Now correct me someone if I am wrong but isn’t it the insurance companies who pay for the losses? We were also told the State mandated the City had 120 days to accept the maps or recommend some changes and we were right about that time period now. One of the City representatives (I don’t remember which one) said this whole thing started in October of 2011. But I went to the California Dept of Forestry & Fire Protection website and found the Chuck Wilson, Director of Community Development as early as July 15th said the proposed maps are OK with the City. Someone is not telling us the truth about the whole episode and not asking for public comments until it is too late. New regulations always cost someone money and pay someone money. We know who it will be costing; we just don’t know whose pockets we will be lining.
Peter Schelden (Editor) March 01, 2012 at 02:00 AM
That's a lot to think about, Kime. I just wanted to answer one question for you. FEMA pays local and regional governments in the case of serious disasters. So if Orange County firefighters are sent out to protect houses, the cost, or part of the cost, will often be absorbed eventually through reimbursement funding by the federal government.
Kime Goodrum March 01, 2012 at 02:12 AM
Thanks, Peter. Any idea what is considered a serious fire disaster? I mean I am sure every opportunity to get Federal dollars is utilized but are there any guidelines? Where you there last night when it was admitted not one home as ever been lost in Mission Viejo to one of these type of fires? Any idea of who gets $ from declaring these areas "Severe"?
Peter Schelden (Editor) March 01, 2012 at 02:36 AM
Kime, states of emergency are declared when a local government lacks the resource to deal with a natural disaster. Governors can declare disasters and bring in federal assistance, but doing so costs the state as well. Individual cities can encourage governors to declare states of emergency, too. It's a complex process (like most things involving the government). You can learn more about it here: http://www.fema.gov/media/fact_sheets/declaration_process.shtm
Peter Schelden (Editor) March 01, 2012 at 02:42 AM
Also, I wasn't there for last night's meeting, but Young Kim, who wrote the story, was. I would imagine state governments are under a lot of pressure to conform to federal standards when it comes to emergencies. Since most taxes go to Washington, D.C., they hold the biggest purse strings and can often call the shots in cases like this. For example, the federal government maintains a .08 blood-alcohol content standard for all drivers. States can set whatever BAC limit they want, but if a state's standards are less strict than federal standards, the state risks losing its federally-funded highway money: http://www.stateline.org/live/printable/story?contentId=15157
J. Holden March 01, 2012 at 12:13 PM
Woos Peter but Cathy Schlicht was there also-- but since your outfit does not like her you give her o props.
Peter Schelden (Editor) March 01, 2012 at 06:32 PM
Hi J., thanks for dropping by. Not true at all. We had a young reporter out there, and he scanned the audience for city council members and other officials like I asked him to, but apparently Cathy slipped his notice. Thanks for bringing her presence to our attention for a fuller story. Do you know if she spoke at the meeting?
Peter Schelden (Editor) March 01, 2012 at 06:35 PM
Also, as far as any supposed bias against Cathy, I've published entire, unedited letters from her before, and would be happy to do so in the future: http://patch.com/A-hWr8. I believe our political coverage of Cathy and the rest of the council has always been fair. If you disagree, I challenge you to prove it.
Jholden March 03, 2012 at 04:23 AM
Peter, Cathy spoke three times and identified herself. You need to " school" your Rockies. She was also thanked by three different speakers--so you should not offer up challenges you can not win! Did you call Cathy--not!
Peter Schelden (Editor) March 03, 2012 at 05:45 AM
Thanks, J. If you think I've not given Cathy a fair shake in an article, please show me where, in a personal message. If you have something to say about the recent meeting, by all means please publish it here. Furthermore, if you're concerned that your political opinions are not represented here, just say the word and I'll make you a Patch blogger. You can sign up here: missionviejo.patch.com/blog/apply

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