LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
Californians who live in an area devastated by wildfires have new protections as of January 1. If their home survives a blaze, their property insurer must maintain their coverage for at least a year after the disaster. But as Pauline Bartolone from Capital Public Radio learned, the new law has come too late to help the families reeling from last year's Camp Fire.
PAULINE BARTOLONE, BYLINE: Tamara and Tom Conry get a rush of emotion when they look at their old neighborhood in Paradise. It's an apocalyptic landscape of burned up rubble mixed in with the few vacant homes that survived.
TOM CONRY: So much of it doesn't make any sense. This house is here. This house is not.
BARTOLONE: The Conrys' home was barely touched by November's blaze. Fire officials say about 1 in 10 buildings in the town are still standing. And at first, the couple was dead set on returning.
TAMARA CONRY: So we'll go ahead and wipe the feet but just know...
BARTOLONE: But as Tamara shows me the inside of their house, she explains they have their own steep climb to normalcy. The home is contaminated by ash and smoke. And their deck was scorched. Their homeowner's insurer covered their temporary housing. But recently, Tamara got some bad news. The company, American Reliable, decided not to renew their policy.
TAMARA CONRY: Getting that letter just was like a slap in the face. Right now when it's going to be the hardest time ever to get insurance at any kind of reasonable price, that's when you non-renew us.
BARTOLONE: The Conrys say trying to make their home livable again has been stressful enough, and finding new insurance has just added to that headache.
TAMARA CONRY: Sometimes, I feel like it would've been easier if the house had burned down. And then you're moving on.
BARTOLONE: Tom and Tamara are not the only ones with this problem. The state's Department of Insurance says they've heard from other Californians in fire areas who lost their insurance.
AMY BACH: Their situation can almost be worse sometimes than people whose homes are gone.
BARTOLONE: Amy Bach with the consumer advocacy group United Policyholders says she knows people in this situation, too. If your house burns down, California law says your policy must be renewed for at least two years. But that doesn't help the Conrys.
BACH: They're sort of competing with the total loss victims for attention and dollars. But they also don't have the same protection that a total loss victim has to keep their insurance.
BARTOLONE: American Reliable's parent company, Global Indemnity, didn't respond to multiple requests for comment for this story. But Mark Sektnan, the spokesperson for the property insurance industry, says companies have to always reassess the risks.
MARK SEKTNAN: They just want to make sure you don't have too many policies concentrated in a particular area because then if there is a loss, it can have negative implications for the company.
BARTOLONE: One insurer already went belly up because of the Camp Fire. But Sektnan says there are about 50 insurers in California, so homeowners in fire areas are likely to find another option. They should expect to pay more, though.
SEKTNAN: And that's to insure that, you know, people in the high-risk areas should pay a higher amount for insurance than people who live in low-risk areas. Otherwise, people like where I live would end up subsidizing these people.
TAMARA CONRY: Watch your step on that.
BARTOLONE: The Conrys recently found a new homeowner's policy - a last resort plan California law provides for people like them. They're paying more than double what they did before. But the devastation in Paradise and the insurance headaches have been too much for the Conrys. They've recently decided they're not going back. And they've put their house up for sale. For NPR News, I'm Pauline Bartolone in Chico, Calif.
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