Having worked for decades in conservation nonprofits, Beth Pratt, who lives high in the Sierra Foothills in Midpines, California, understands how climate change is putting her home at ever greater risk. Her community is experiencing what she calls “climate whiplash”: forest fires, record heat, massive snow dumps, mudslides, rockslides, and even a tornado.
When Pratt, now 54, bought her 1,400-square-foot house in 1999, she thought the setting was ideal: on a big lot near Yosemite National Park. As recently as a decade ago, she told me by Zoom one recent morning, she didn’t particularly worry about wildfires—a problem that now plagues her area with disturbing frequency. Pratt said she has been forced to evacuate three times.
Making her best effort at “coexisting with fire,” as she put it, Pratt had metal roofing installed atop her house. To clear combustible material from around its perimeter, she learned how to cut trees with a chainsaw and to carefully incinerate heaps of wood debris. “I finally got comfortable doing my own burn pile, which took me a while,” she said. “I mean, lighting a fire can be a little scary, right?” Pratt has gone to enormous lengths to protect her house. She has a 2,500-gallon well tank with a firehose hookup, and added new metal decks to replace her wood ones. Because of these efforts, she reports, she’s passed the “defensible space” inspections recommended by the state fire department. “This home, which is my home, I would work six jobs to keep,” she said.
To Allstate, Pratt’s longtime home insurer, her resolve appears to be irrelevant. The company dropped her as a customer in July, she says. Given her professional expertise in environmental matters—Pratt is the California regional executive director of the National Wildlife Federation—she figured that growing climate risks might mean higher bills for insurance, but she wasn’t prepared to lose her coverage entirely. [Continue reading…]