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Insurance crisis spurs Paradise neighborhoods to become ‘Firewise’

Jen Goodlin holds a "Firewise USA" sign representing the Firewise Community she formed for more than 40 neighboring homes. Photo taken on Jan. 16, 2024 in Paradise, Calif.
Jamie Jiang
/
NSPR
Jen Goodlin holds a "Firewise USA" sign representing the Firewise Community she formed for more than 40 neighboring homes. Photo taken on Jan. 16, 2024 in Paradise, Calif.

“Firewise Community” signs could soon spring up on streets in a number of neighborhoods in Paradise.

The designation comes from the National Fire Protection Association’s Firewise USA program. The program recognizes communities who organize around wildfire safety and connects those communities with resources, like grants and information about fire safety. In California, it also guarantees a homeowners’ insurance discount.

Last summer, a neighborhood near Bille Park became the first Firewise Community in Paradise since the 2018 Camp Fire, and the only new designation introduced in the county that year. The year before, just three communities joined the Firewise program.

The Butte County Fire Safe Council said 20 new neighborhoods are expected in 2024 in Paradise alone.

The reason for the sudden interest: discounts on skyrocketing homeowners’ insurance.

Lauren de Terra, Firewise USA coordinator for the Butte County Fire Safe Council, said the Firewise program has grown slowly in the area until now.

“It's a bit unfortunate that it's been spurred by insurance costs,” de Terra said. “But I'm glad that this is happening, because this has been a goal for us for a long time.”

A 2022 state regulation requires insurers to provide discounts for Firewise Communities. That includes the expensive insurance plan of last resort, the California FAIR Plan.

A Firewise USA sign sits on the porch of Jen Goodlin's home in the Bille Park neighborhood. Taken on Jan. 16, 2024 in Paradise, Calif.
Jamie Jiang
/
NSPR
A Firewise USA sign sits on the porch of Jen Goodlin's home in the Bille Park neighborhood. Taken on Jan. 16, 2024 in Paradise, Calif.

Rebuild Paradise Foundation Executive Director Jen Goodlin formed the Firewise Community in Bille Park. She said she’s already received her discount on the FAIR Plan at around 10%, one of the highest she’s seen.

“It does change things. It's not a huge game changer, but it gives people a little bit of control back,” Goodlin said.

She added her neighbors have received checks from their insurers as well.

In order to get the designation, Goodlin wrote an action plan, asked Cal Fire to assess the neighborhood’s fire risk, and got her neighbors to commit to yearly fire prevention work. She said it took just around a month to do. Goodlin worked with the Butte County Fire Safe Council throughout the process and recommended any interested residents reach out.

De Terra, at the Fire Safe Council, said as homeowners’ insurance rates have increased, several in Paradise have already contacted her.

“We’re getting calls, we have walk-ins. People are saying either I’m being dropped and I need coverage, or my insurance rate has gone up six times overnight,” de Terra said.

Across Butte County, there are currently 11 Firewise Communities.

That’s a far cry from other counties in the state, which together represented around a third of all Firewise USA communities in the nation last year. De Terra pointed to Marin County’s 80 Firewise neighborhoods and Nevada County’s nearly 100 as examples of where she wants Butte County to be.

The Butte County Firesafe Council plans to usher in a surge of Firewise Communities in the area. Firewise USA coordinator Lauren de Terra holds up a sign meant for neighborhoods participating in the program. Photo taken on Jan. 16, 2024 in Paradise, Calif.
Jamie Jiang
/
NSPR
Firewise USA Coordinator, Lauren de Terra, points to a map of 20 proposed Firewise Communities expected to form in Paradise this year. Photo taken on Jan. 16, 2024 in Paradise, Calif.

“The good thing is that you cannot be denied. Regardless of the state of your home or your property, you're not going to be rejected from Firewise,” de Terra said. “So there's really no reason to not do this program.”

Insurance is a huge issue, de Terra added, and the more Firewise Communities there are, the better the residents’ chances of affordable insurance.

In 2024, de Terra expects all 20 neighborhoods in Paradise to receive the distinction. But she hopes to encourage people to create Firewise Communities in other areas with high fire risk, like Magalia and Kelly Ridge, near Oroville.

Residents interested in the program can find support at the Paradise Ridge Fire Safe Council and the Rebuild Paradise Foundation, or reach out to de Terra at the Butte County Fire Safe Council.

Jamie is NSPR’s wildfire reporter and Report For America corps member. She covers all things fire, but her main focus is wildfire recovery in the North State. Before NSPR, Jamie was at UCLA, where she dabbled in college radio and briefly worked as podcast editor at the Daily Bruin.