Some residents whose homes were saved in the recent blazes credit response teams dispatched by their insurers. But public firefighters express uncertainty about the private sector.
As Southern California deals with the reality of recurring, destructive wildfires, a sometimes-controversial cottage industry of private response teams has sprung up to help save the homes of well-to-do clients.Such teams were highly visible in the Tea fire, which raged across one of the nation's costliest neighborhoods, destroying 210 homes and damaging nine others.
Peter Jacobson believes one of these teams saved his home. The palm trees towering over his Montecito estate are charred black, but the retired developer's luxurious Italian villa-style home survived the devastating Nov. 13 fire mostly intact.A few hundreds yards away, all that's left of Hollywood uber-producer Marcy Carsey's $14-million retreat is a partial brick wall, jutting jagged toward the sky, and a still-green lawn with killer ocean views.Why was Jacobson so lucky?He credits Firebreak, which coated vegetation around his home with fire retardant and moved lawn chairs and other flammable items away from the home as flames approached the area after sundown. ."They saved my house. Homes around me burned, but mine didn't," Jacobson said of the company, which was dispatched by his insurer, AIG.AIG offers the extra protection free of charge to policyholders whose homes are worth $1 million or more or who pay at least $10,000 a year in premiums. Chubb Insurance this year introduced its own response teams.
Any Chubb policyholder living in a fire-prone area can sign up for the free service, said Scott Spencer, senior vice president for loss prevention.The hired troops were a presence in the most recent round of wildfires in Santa Barbara, Los Angeles and Orange counties. AIG says it is providing a valuable service that supplements, but doesn't replace, the work of public fire agencies.
Homeowners are happy when homes and memories are saved, and AIG saves money in the long run, spokesman Peter Tulupman said.With wildfires a frequent worry in many parts of California, such private response teams are becoming more commonplace.But as their profile grows, so does the debate within public fire agencies about whether the private firms are more of a help or hindrance.
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