Wildfires remain a huge concern to those living in California. This year, the U.S. Forest Service reported that some estimated one-million acres have already been burned in state wildfires for 2018.
In response to growing environmental concerns surrounding the occurrence of wildfires, many insurers are leaving the state. The dearth of options for churches to obtain a comprehensive wildfire insurance has led to some needed innovation. Both Church Mutual Insurance Co. and Church & Casualty Insurance Agency have started a pilot program to assist houses of worship prepare for wildfire disasters using information collected from affected policyholders.
Called the CM Wildfire Solutions Program, Tom Kluxdal, director of innovation at Church Mutual Insurance Co., explains that this program is currently in pilot phase and illustrates the company’s mission of protecting the greater good.
“From the environmental changes going on in the world, there have been extremes in catastrophic events in a number of areas, and one of the problematic issues we felt Church Mutual could assist our customers was in a wildfire program,” Kluxdal explains. “Knowing that the wildfire season continues to grow as far as seasonal length, and the severity of these fires, we knew this was something we wanted to do now, rather than sit on the sidelines.”
"The pilot program, which began in July, is provided to approximately 6,000 worship customers in the state."
First off, the program offers 24/7 access to wildfire monitoring services as well as providing a personalized walking tour of the church’s property by risk control agents who identify and evaluate areas of vulnerability. These areas are then treated with urgency in making improvements. The program also includes a fire mitigation service to help protect property in a wildfire’s path, installing defense tactics such as combustible material removal, temporary sprinklers, and applying fire-retardant gel.
“We are able to provide real-time alerts to our customers when a wildfire event is nearing their facility or location. That’s paramount to providing the front-end protection that alerts them to protect the building and hopefully protect against any loss of life or injury,” Kluxdal says. “We are also working within our own internal teams in the risk control department to have face-to-face meetings with customers who identify as high-risk and prone to wildfires.”
For those customers, it is providing information on how to improve their facilities to help eliminate or prevent fire from attacking their facility or grounds.
“The customer is then further protected because if we do find that a customer is in the line of a moving wildfire, we will provide mitigation services,” Kluxdal says. “It’s been very beneficial for Church Mutual and our customers for this very catastrophic wildfire season.”
The pilot program, which began in July, is provided to approximately 6,000 worship customers in the state.
“We are able to protect them and bring peace of mind so they can continue with their missions into the future,” Kluxdal says. “If we are able to keep the facility protected and open, then churches can continue their work with minimal interruption.”
Camp Peaceful Pines, an affiliated summer camping program of the PSWD of the Church of the Brethren in California, is participating in Church Mutual’s wildfire pilot program and was one of the first to make use of it.
On August 1, a wildfire believed to have been started by an illegal campfire, began burning around California State Route 108 in Tuolumne County, near the Donnell Reservoir -- which happened to be where the camp set up shop. The Donnell Fire proceeded to spread quickly, destroying approximately 50 structures in the area.
“The wildfire was right around the camp (as close as 18 inches) and our buildings there are over 60-years-old,” says Garry Pearson, camp director and board chair of Camp Peaceful Pines. “What Church Mutual did was become pro-active in doing fire prevention. They sent in a strike team, which was pretty tricky.”
The Church Mutual team worked with the Forest Service incident center to make its way towards the camp to help protect it.
“The Forest Service contracted with some “smoke jumpers” from Arizona. Before they arrived the Church Mutual strike team jumped into action and formed a ring of protection around the camp,” Pearson says. “Church Mutual’s program offered these kinds of protection that helped to save the camp. We couldn’t have been more pleased with that response and the outcome.”