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, Mission Viejo 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.