Concerns that a new map showing wildfire risk in Oregon will lead to property insurance hikes are unfounded, state financial regulators said Friday.
Insurers have failed to file documents needed to raise rates for high-risk properties and have told officials with Oregon’s Department of Consumer and Business Services, which regulates property insurance, that they do not did not intend to use the cards in their coverage and rate assessments.
“Oregon insurance companies have not used, and currently do not intend to use, the wildfire hazard map in their decision-making,” said Mark Peterson, department communications director, in an email. “During informal discussions prior to the release of the state’s wildfire hazard map, insurers told the division they had no plans to use the map.”
The announcement follows a series of heated public listening sessions that took place after the Wildfire Risk Explorer map was released by the Oregon Department of Forestry on June 30.
The searchable map, created in collaboration with researchers at Oregon State University, showed the wildfire risk of 2 million tax lots across the state, classifying them into five levels: none, low, moderate, high or extreme. About 80,000 homeowners found they were in high or extreme risk areas and received letters from the Forest Department telling them they could be subject to fire-rated building codes currently being developed .
Many learned on the day the map was released that their property had been designated high or extreme risk, and they were confused and frustrated with how the risk had been assigned and how it would affect their rates and coverage. A planned meeting at Grants Pass was even moved online in response to threats.
The Forest Department canceled card about five weeks later because of public outcry and pressure from Republican state lawmakers. It is currently being redesigned, with officials considering public feedback. For some, the ministry’s assertion that insurance rates would not change runs counter to their experience. Kevin Cassidy, who owns property in Baker County near the Elkhorn Mountains, told the Capital Chronicle last month that his 20-year-old property insurance policy had not been renewed by his insurer due to the high-risk category in which his property was on the map.
This call from his insurer “was the first time I was made aware that the Forest Department was even making this map,” he said. Cassidy has found a new company to cover him, but his premium is now double what it was.
“Is it possible for me to have a fire here?” Under the right conditions, there are a lot of sensitive spots,” Cassidy said. “Is it extreme as it exists? Nope.”
In response, Peterson of the Department of Consumer and Business Services said, “Anyone who is notified that their policy is not being renewed or canceled due to the state’s wildfire hazard map should file a complaint. with the division.”
The department issued a notice to agents selling insurance, telling them that insurance companies do not use the card to determine rates and coverage, adding that spreading false or misleading information about potential rate increases is a violation of the Oregon Insurance Code.
There are nearly 150 insurance companies offering homeowners insurance in Oregon, and most have already assessed fire risks themselves, Peterson said.