California Passes $20M “Controlled Burn” Insurance Backstop

Lack of liability cover was adding fuel to the state’s wildfire problems.

After fire professional were being shut out or priced out of the private insurance market, California has passed a multimillion dollar backstop for municipalities and public entities that conduct “prescribed burns” in the state.

The new program, called the Prescribed Fire Liability Pilot Program, will dedicate $20 million to pay for damages in the event that a burn causes damage.

Prescribe fires have become a critical tool for wildfire professionals looking to reduce combustable fuel and manage at-risk landscapes. Despite their usefulness, the risk of controlled burn escapes beyond the prescribed fire lines has driven up insurance rates.

Research from Stanford University found that limited or exceptionally expensive insurance liability coverage was major barrier to conducting prescribed burns in the state.

“If we want to reduce the frequency and destructiveness of wildfires, we must remove combustible fuels from our tinder-dry forests and woodlands,” said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Bill Dodd. “Prescribed burning is a time-tested solution to this worsening problem. I am thrilled to see this come to fruition and thank my legislative colleagues for supporting this worthwhile investment.”

The new law establishes a pilot program to provide liability insurance for fire professionals that utilize controlled burns that, in rare instances, burn out of control. The lawmaker said that wildfire professionals were unable to afford increasing insurance premiums. He added that the facility will act as a “backstop” for the private insurance market.

“Lack of insurance has become increasingly limiting for prescribed fire in California, even while the state increases its prescribed fire commitments and investments," said Lenya Quinn-Davidson, director of the Northern California Prescribed Fire Council.

The legislation was pushed by the Nature Conservancy, which touted the new law.

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