Fire officials are disputing a new report that claims 80 percent of homes in Tuolumne County are at high or extreme risk of wildfire.

Verisk Insurance Solutions, which bills itself as a leading source of information about property and casualty insurance risk, recently published its annual FireLine State Risk Report for 2017 that listed Tuolumne County as having the fourth highest percentage of homes in high or extreme wildfire danger out of all 58 counties in California.

California was also listed as the state with the highest number of homes at high or extreme risk of wildfire.

The four counties with a higher percentage of homes in the high or extreme risk category were Mariposa and Trinity at 81 percent and Alpine at 88 percent, according to the report. Los Angeles County had the highest number of homes, 441,300, in the same risk category.

Josh White, chief of Cal Fire’s Tuolumne-Calaveras Unit, said the report’s findings should be taken with a grain of salt.

“They are essentially looking at three factors: ingress/egress, topography and fuel type,” White said. “One of the key components they fail to factor in is fire suppression resources.”

White said there were 21 wildland fires in the Tuolumne-Calaveras Unit between July 17 and July 24, and none of them caused a structure to burn down thanks to the rapid and aggressive response by firefighters.

However, insurance companies have been increasingly relying upon the FireLine analysis to assess the risk for wildfire when writing policies in rural areas. This has in part led to county residents having trouble obtaining homeowners insurance or seeing their premiums skyrocket.

The issue became so bad that the county government began urging people in December 2014 to fill out a survey detailing their issues with homeowners insurance.

White said he and County Administrator Craig Pedro met with California Department of Insurance officials in 2015 to discuss the impact that insurance issues were having on the county, but the department doesn’t tell private companies what risk-assessment tools they can or can’t use.

The void in coverage has created an opportunity for a new company called Delos that was founded by a man and woman with degrees in aerospace engineering and physics.

Rather than the 30-meter satellite imagery that FireLine uses, Delos’ Chief Executive Officer Kevin Stein said the company is working with NASA to use satellite technology that can zoom in on a particular property as close as 30 centimeters.

“We saw there was a giant need,” said Stein. “There are a lot of industries that don’t understand what imagery is available.”

The company was created in June 2016 and launched its website earlier this month.

Shanna McIntyre, chief data officer and co-founder of Delos, said the company’s goal is to be the top insurance broker for high-risk areas. She said the imagery will allow them to give credit to homeowners for clearing defensible space, as well as identify nearby fuel breaks.

“If we can have a good quantitative measure of risk, we’ll have more carriers in the area,” McIntyre said. “They’re pulling out right now, and we want them to come back in.”

Contact Alex MacLean at amaclean@uniondemocrat.com or (209) 588-4530.

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