Eric Hocutt and his wife Lisa lost nearly everything they owned when the Sandalwood fire raced through the Calimesa mobile home park last week, destroying 76 homes.

What the Hocutts did have was home insurance — and despite their losses at the Villa Calimesa Mobile Home Park — quite a bit of luck. Not everyone at the mobile home park were so lucky.

“Everybody was in the process of getting insurance … most of us didn’t, obviously. It’s too late, but it is what it is,”  said Rosie Castellon, 58, who lost her mobile home to the fire.  She said she was uninsured when the fire struck. Her neighbors, the Hocutts, were lucky ones.

Residents of Riverside and San Bernardino mountain communities have said they have been hit by insurance companies declining to renew their policies due to high fire danger.

In August, the California Department of Insurance released data showing insurance companies declined to renew nearly 350,000 home insurance policies in areas at high risk for wildfire since the state began collecting data in 2015. The data did not show how many consumers were able to find new policies, such as the Hocutts, or what the costs were.

Castellon said several residents of the park had their policies turned down and were trying to get new insurance.

It was about two months ago, Hocutt recalled on Wednesday, when he was notified his previous insurer was not going to renew his policy. He was told in a declaration letter, he said, that the company assessed his mobile home was at high risk for fire, citing the topography of the area.

After three years of $10 billion-plus payouts from wildfire claims, “there is a reassessment going on right now” in the home insurance industry, said Rex Frazier, president of the Personal Insurance Federation of California.

He compared the destructive wildfires in Canada and California between 2016 and 2018 and their insurance outcomes to the same policy reviews the industry had after the Northridge earthquake of 1994 and Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

“Insurance companies are really putting their financial futures in jeopardy if they just keep doing the same thing,” Frazier said.

Hocutt said he believed the halt in coverage was the anniversary of the policy — Oct. 10, 2019. Hocutt said he found another insurer. That company began its policy on the date of expiration for the previous policy —  which also was the first day of the Sandalwood fire.

“Who would have thought?” he said Wednesday as he drove to Riverside to retrieve some documents. Wednesday also was his and Lisa’s eighth wedding anniversary. They are both 42.

Hocutt said his new policy is about 20% more than his canceled policy. He found it after some shopping.

“I had quotes as high as 50 to 60% higher” than the previous cost, he said.

The Hocutt’s losses included several plastic containers that they had already filled with his and Lisa’s personal belongings and memorabilia — yearbooks, photo albums, trophies — that were ready to go with them for a planned trip to Arkansas, where they would be put in a relative’s basement, and be safe, he said.

“There’s no fires in Arkansas, just tornadoes,” he said by phone Wednesday. The containers were “incinerated” in the fire. So was the truck the Hocutts were going to take to Arkansas.

Two people died in the 1,011-acre fire that was contained on Monday evening. The fire started Thursday afternoon when garbage in a trash truck caught fire and the driver dumped the load near Sandalwood Drive and Seventh Street. The flames and embers were driven by Santa Ana winds and were inside the mobile home park within minutes.

The last year for the California Department of Insurance study was 2018, and Riverside and San Bernardino counties are not among the 10 named by the department as those with homes in high or very high-risk areas. Those are Tuolumne, Trinity, Nevada, Mariposa, Plumas, Alpine, Calaveras, Sierra, Amador, and El Dorado.

But any area is subject to re-evaluation by insurers, who may conclude it is too risky to cover.

Reviews of insurance policies are done “company by company,” said California Department of Insurance Deputy Commissioner Tony Cignarale. “There is no law prohibiting them from choosing which policy they will write, or not write.”

Data shows more non-renewals of policies initiated by policyholders than by the companies themselves. There’s no details as to why that might be.



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