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Insurance Companies Fighting Wildfire Losses In New Ways

The Castle Rock Fire in central Idaho is officially the nation’s number one fire priority.  It’s not lives that are threatened, so much as about a billion dollars’ worth of high-end real estate.

Correspondent Elizabeth Wynne Johnson has this look at what one insurance company is doing to avoid getting burned.

Ketchum, IDKetchum, Idaho is home to the venerable Sun Valley resort.   It’s a magnet for people who like their mountain getaways to be as inaccessible as possible.

Tom Futral: “People come to get away from everybody and that’s why some of these trees are so close to the residences. I mean, you’ve got to admit these are beautiful, beautiful residences.”

That’s Tom Futral. He doesn’t have much time to admire the architecture of some of these houses. That’s because he’s been contracted by insurance company AIG to save them.

Tom Futral: “As you can see, there’s ashes already all over this deck….”

As he works, smoke billows down from the hill above. He sprays the home and its surrounding cluster of blue spruce with a clear, virtually odorless liquid.  It’s a flame retardant like the stuff fire crews dump from planes, minus the red tint.

Futral says a thin film will keep this multi-million dollar retreat flame-free.

Tom Futral: “Total protection. Total protection.”

That’s peace of mind for the homeowner.  And for AIG.  It created this service for what it calls ‘high and ultra-high net worth’ clients in forested hot spots in California and Colorado.

Idaho’s Sun Valley is getting the treatment for the first time this year.  That’s because AIG insures almost 200 homes threatened by this fire. If things go badly, the company could face massive claims.

Dorothy Sarna is national director of risk management at AIG.  She says there’s a growing market for this kind of service.

Dorothy Sarna: “People are building homes in areas where we didn’t used to build homes. People are building bigger homes on the coast, for example. They’re building homes that back up to national forests.”

Living so close to wilderness has obvious benefits and prices to match. But the risks are costly, too.  Which makes a cloak of inflammability look like a real bargain.  To home-owners and their insurance companies.

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