North Bay city takes community approach to wildfire prevention, keeping fire insurance costs down

MILL VALLEY, Calif. (KGO) -- State regulators say one way to keep fire rates down is a community-wide approach. You could be doing everything right to minimize your own wildfire risk, but if your neighbor isn't doing the same, your home insurance rates could go up anyway. Mill Valley hopes to keep that from happening.

Mill Valley Fire Department Battalion Chief Michael St. John goes on a home hazard inspection with longtime Mill Valley resident Maggie Lang.

She's in the middle of a high-growth area, where the risk of fire is higher.

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St. John wants to minimize that risk.

"All we can do is to improve conditions. We're not going to be able to eliminate the fire threat to the community or this house," St. John says.

Lang says she's spoken to neighbors whose insurance has been canceled due to the high fire risk.

She doesn't want to be next.

"I'm very concerned about losing insurance. And that's why it was very helpful to have Chief St. John come and give us guidelines about what we can do," said Lang.

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California firefighters battled destructive new wildfires in wine country north of San Francisco Monday as strong winds fanned flames in the already badly scorched state. See scenes from the Glass Incident and other fires in the video above.

Simple guidelines, like sweeping away leaves from the home. In a fire, leaves and vegetation can fuel embers to spread the fire quickly.

Other tips are to keep trees from hanging over your home and to replace vegetation with potted plants.

Homeowners can also close up vents with proper meshing to avoid having fire enter the inside of your home.

You can also place gravel near your wood decking as another easy preventative measure.

"It's all right up underneath the deck. So making sure that stuff is clear is really important," says St. John.

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Many homeowners don't realize they've been assigned a fire risk score. These scores are given by private companies and there are no state standards.

The Department of Insurance would like to see more transparency in these scores.

Deputy Commissioner Michael Soller says the department wants insurance companies to give homeowners an opportunity to lower their scores by minimizing their risk.

"It's the idea that there are things you can do with your property that can bring down the risk of a fire, catching your home on fire, can bring down the damage that it can cost," says Soller.

Joel Laucher who just retired from the Department of Insurance couldn't agree more.

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As residents return to see what remains, there are some very specific safety precautions to keep in mind.

"It's more than insurance. It's about making sure your home is as protected as it can be," says Laucher.

The battalion chief says homeowners who make the proper corrections will get letters certifying that they are in compliance. He says that can lead to a reduction in their insurance rates, or even reinstatement if they've been canceled.

Lang hopes that is incentive enough for people to do what's right.

"Over time we're hopeful that people will influence people's behavior," she says.

The city of Mill Valley just recently approved the hiring of more inspectors to expand the program. The Department of Insurance thinks this is a great way to reduce home insurance costs.

Take a look at more stories and videos by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.

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