Homeowners can’t add insurance as wildfire burns

Flames from the Weber Fire near Mancos on Sunday came within 80 feet of a home in the Elk Stream Ranch subdivision. Insurance agents report a spike in calls from homeowners seeking to augment their fire policies, but they are likely out of luck: Most insurance firms will not write new policies while a home is under threat from a wildfire. Enlarge photo

JERRY MCBRIDE/Durango Herald

Flames from the Weber Fire near Mancos on Sunday came within 80 feet of a home in the Elk Stream Ranch subdivision. Insurance agents report a spike in calls from homeowners seeking to augment their fire policies, but they are likely out of luck: Most insurance firms will not write new policies while a home is under threat from a wildfire.

With 140 homes evacuated and more likely, many homeowners are left wondering if their current insurance plans are enough.

Although no homes have been lost in the Weber Fire, the blaze came within 80 feet of one home Sunday in the Elk Stream Ranch subdivision, said Dan Bender, spokesman for the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office.

Farmers Insurance Group has received multiple calls from homeowners either trying to obtain insurance or increase their current coverage, said Jim Duresky, an insurance agent with the firm.

But insurance companies are not allowed to offer policies to homeowners if their house is threatened by wildfire.

State Farm has a similar policy, and a fire has to be 100 percent contained before the company can increase coverage or write new coverage for homes that were threatened by a wildfire, said Ken Willyard, a State Farm agent.

“That’s why it’s so important to have these conversations before there ever is a wildfire,” said Angela Thorpe, spokeswoman for State Farm.

Both insurance agencies are working with customers to go through their current plans and what will be covered if the home is damaged by the blaze.

Insurance companies aren’t the only ones feeling the heat. The Mancos office of Coldwell Banker said the amount of smoke and fire has affected showings.

The office has remained open, though, because buyers who are not in the area have been inquiring about advertisements the company put out, said Pat Janz, an associate broker with Coldwell Banker.

The fires currently raging across the state highlight an issue both homeowners and real-estate agents already face: stricter guidelines from insurance companies for homes located in high-risk wildfire areas.

The insurance industry started establishing new rules for homeowners after the nationwide 2000 and 2002 fire seasons because of huge losses insurance companies experienced.

The companies are now requiring homeowners to limit the fire hazards around their homes and meet certain safety requirements before the home will be insured.

“Some of the larger insurance companies are proposing not writing policies out here in this particular area that has high fire danger,” said Jarrod Nixon, president of the Durango Area Association of Realtors.

Nixon said he has not heard of anyone unable to get insurance yet, but the new regulations are a concern.

jdahl@durangoherald.com

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