Insurance claims from deadly California fires top $12B

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Insurance claims have topped $12 billion for the November wildfires in California, making them the most expensive in state history.

The figure released Wednesday by Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara covers the fire that destroyed the town of Paradise and two Southern California blazes.

Most of the damages relate to the Paradise fire, which killed 85 people and destroyed nearly 19,000 buildings.

“While last year’s tragic wildfires turned thousands of people’s lives upside down, insurance is helping to rebuild and recover,” Lara said in a news release during Wildfire Preparedness Week.

California experienced some of its deadliest and most destructive wildfires in its history in 2017 and 2018. A series of sweeping fires in late 2017 had been the most expensive, with claims topping $11.8 billion.

The increasing destruction is making it harder and more costly for people to obtain homeowners insurance.

The insurance department has started collecting data on policy non-renewals to better assess patterns and locations where coverage is being dropped, Lara said earlier this year.

When insurers decline to renew policies, state law requires them to notify customers about other options. The state has a pooled insurance plan of last result known as the “FAIR plan.”

California lawmakers are grappling this year with ways to address the cost and destruction of wildfires.

Pacific Gas & Electric Corp., the state’s largest utility, filed for bankruptcy in January, saying it could not afford potentially tens of billions of dollars in liability costs related to fires.

State law makes utilities financially liable for damages from wildfires caused by their equipment, even if they aren’t found to be negligent.

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