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                The San Diego North County Fires – What Did We Learn?

By Ken May


            It seems that every four years or so, major fires ravage San Diego County. Many homes, businesses, and lives are lost and irreplaceable possessions are destroyed. Fortunately, though some homes were destroyed in the fires that attacked North County, it could have been many more had it not been for the efforts of our first responders and the quick, decisive actions of the residents. I heard of only one life lost which is miraculous and one office structure a couple of blocks from my office.

            So here are some random thoughts that I’ve been having in retrospect:


  • You can’t decide to purchase homeowners, condo, or renter’s insurance policy once the fires have started. We received numerous calls from people wanting to buy policies or raise the coverage on their existing policies the morning the fires started. First, the companies place a moratorium on new business and the increase of coverage on existing policies and second, we cannot put our companies at risk by placing new business with them when the risk of loss is so extreme.
  • Firebreaks, otherwise known as open, defensible space is vitally important. I am fighting with my homeowners association right now because of the growth of trees and bushes directly behind my back fence in the canyon. And if you have a firebreak by your property that is not maintained and therefore, probably not effective, you need to take actions to get it cut down and cut back. A whole neighborhood of high value homes in the San Elijo area was saved because a large parcel of land was stripped down to the dirt in anticipation of building a new housing tract. Little did they know that it would become a fantastic firebreak.
  • It’s not a smart idea to have vines climbing up the side of your residence. Though it looks nice, it becomes a fuel source for the fire.
  • And while we are talking about it, you must keep the undersides of the part of the roof that hangs over the edge of the house clear of all brush. And if you want to be even safer, they make fire resistive material for that area of the house.
  • Well maintained tile roofs can be a home saver. I have a friend who still has a wood shake home which is like having a roof made of kindling.
  • When the order comes from the local police to evacuate, you need to EVACUATE! They want you out of the area to be out of harm’s way but also want you out quickly so that the roads are open for the firefighters. From what I’ve heard, most people in North County did this very well.
  • Do you love that giant tree in your yard? Think about what would happen if that beauty caught fire and then fell on your house, your neighbor’s house, or your gasoline filled automobile.
  • So what did you take with you and what did you leave behind when you were told to leave your residence? We took our important documents, irreplaceable pictures, medications, and of course our dog. But then you always realize later what your should have taken but didn’t.
  • Do you have a home inventory of your possessions? Walk around your residence and take photos of your stuff. And if you get ambitious, write down the serial numbers of the high ticket items. This will make the claims process easier and fairer to you.
  • What kind of punishment do you think an arsonist should get if found guilty of starting any of these fires? Personally, I want any arsonist punished to the full extent of the law, whatever that is.


We’re getting better at reacting to the fires which is great but also a little bit sad. The firefighters and other first responders were awesome (my son-in-law was called to the Camp Pendleton fire). The sad part is that we are just at the beginning of the fire season and it’s very dry out there.


So what are you going to do in anticipation of the next great fire? Me, I’m sitting here at my desk waiting for all of those people to call me back about buying homeowners, condo, or renter’s insurance policies.


Posted 4:38 PM

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