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Wildfires in Southern California force 88K home evacuations, torch iconic properties

Photo illustration: Woolsey Fire in Malibu (Getty)

Fires in Southern California forced residents to flee from at least 88,000 homes on Friday, as a blaze in Northern California burned down an entire town.

California’s painful year of deadly and property-devastating fires reared its head once again amid strong winds and Indian Summer temperatures. And homeowners should brace for even more non-renewals of their policies, according to one insurance research data firm.

The Woolsey Fire, blazing along the Los Angeles and Ventura County border, led officials to evacuate the entire town of Malibu. In Northern California, flames killed at least five people and “incinerated” the town of Paradise, where a blaze had grown to nearly 110 miles and was burning “completely out of control,” according to the Associated Press.

The fire has scorched more than 14,000 acres in Ventura and Los Angeles County. At one point Friday the fire was estimated to be moving at 44 acres per minute, or one football field every two seconds, according to weather.com.

The fires affected some of the wealthier enclaves around Los Angeles, including Hidden Hills, where residents were forced to evacuate, including Kim Kardashian West and Kanye West.

Celebrities living in affected areas, such as director Guillermo del Toro and actress Alyssa Milano, took to social media to chronicle their evacuations. Caitlyn Jenner’s home overlooking Malibu beach is reportedly among those to have burned in the fire Friday, TMZ reported.

In Agoura Hills, the fire reportedly claimed the house used to film the reality dating show “The Bachelor,” as well as Paramount Ranch, where “Westworld” is filmed.

Near Malibu, which was badly affected by post-fire mudslides in January, the Pacific Coast Highway was choked with traffic on Friday as residents heeded a mandatory evacuation order.

Flames also caused the closure of the Los Angeles Zoo in the Griffith Park area, and the evacuation of its animals, before firefighters had mostly contained the fire.

For homeowners, the fires are likely to exacerbate an already-complicated insurance situation. Maxime Rieman-Croll, head of insurance research at data firm ValuePenguin, said she doesn’t expect homeowners rates to spike immediately, given that companies are required to get any hikes approved by the California Department of Insurance. But she does expect an increase in “non-renewals,” which occurs when companies choose to stop a homeowners coverage.

Some insurers are also choosing to stop renewing coverage for homes that aren’t even in high-risk areas, but are near potentially flammable wildlife, like a brush, she added.

“If these fires continue to increase in frequency as they have been in the last couple of years, property insurance rates will increase correspondingly as well, Rieman-Croll said.

Should companies choose to “not renew properties for coverage, or pull out of California market, it could reduce competition and rates may increase due to that,” she said.

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