California insurers ordered to cover customers affected by wildfires

California temporarily banned insurers on Thursday from leaving customers in areas most affected by recent wildfires, a day after it lifted evacuation orders for residents near a two-week-old fire, which started this year. It has become the biggest ever in the state.

Several days of sporadic rain helped firefighters reach 60% control over mosquito fires in the Sierra Foothills, about 110 miles (177 km) northeast of San Francisco. At least 78 homes and other structures have been destroyed since the flames and charred forestlands in Placer and El Dorado counties caught fire on 6 September.

Sheriff’s officers in both counties announced Wednesday they were lifting the final evacuation order that kept about 11,000 people out of their homes during the height of the fire.

Total control of the 120-square-mile (310 sq km) mosquito fire is expected around October 15.

Last week the fire surpassed the size of the previous largest eruption in 2022 – the McKinney fire – although this season has seen so far a fraction of last year’s wildfire activity.

California’s insurance commissioner, Ricardo Lara, on Thursday enacted a law aimed at protecting homeowners in the wildfire-stricken state that they say are being taken out of the commercial insurance market.

Lara ordered insurance companies to preserve residential insurance for one year for Californians who live near one of several major wildfires that have swept the state in recent weeks.

The California Department of Insurance estimates that the moratorium will affect policies covering about 236,000 people in Placer, El Dorado and Riverside counties.

“Forest fires are devastating, even if you haven’t lost your home, so it is absolutely essential to give people a place to breathe after a disaster. This is not the time to seek insurance,” Lara said in a statement.

The law was enacted in 2019, when more than 15 major wildfires across the state burned homes.

Scientists say climate change has made the West hotter and drier over the past three decades and will make the weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive. Over the past five years, California has experienced the largest and most devastating fire in its history.

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