Insurance Company Protecting Pricey Idaho Homes from Wildfire

By | August 24, 2007

Idaho’s Sun Valley Insurance is doing everything it can to keep claims at bay during wildfire season — including sending in a firetruck to cover million-dollar homes threatened by a wildfire outside the central Idaho resort town of Ketchum.

“It’s well worth it from an insurance standpoint, to keep these things standing,” said Jack Dies, owner of Sun Valley Insurance.

A representative for New York-based AIG, Dies said he had insured seven of the threatened homes, which he estimated had a collective value of as much as $35 million. They’re located on the western side of the tony mountain town.

“Fires are not totally uncommon here,” he said, “but nobody thought we would be in as much danger as we ended up being in.”

On Wednesday, the lightning-caused Castle Rock Fire had grown to 22 square miles. It was one of 13 fires being battled in Idaho that have scorched 1,170 square miles.

About 740 firefighters and fire managers were battling the Castle Rock Fire, said fire spokeswoman Pat Irwin. They included firefighters who rappel into the steep terrain out of helicopters.

She said nine helicopters were assigned to the fire and airtankers were also dropping fire retardant.

Residents of about 100 homes have been ordered to evacuate, and residents of about 200 more homes have been advised to leave.

Irwin said a plan to burn out areas ahead of the blaze, depriving it of fuel, has been working. She said “delayed aerial ignition devices,” which look like pingpong balls, were being dropped to start fires in burnout areas.

“We started the burnouts (Tuesday), they’re continuing, and they’ve all been very successful and they’ve worked beautifully,” she said. “We have two or three more days of burnouts to do,” she said on Wednesday.

She said the fire was burning about 11/2 miles west of Ketchum, and that no homes had been destroyed and no one injured. She said some 30 firetrucks were protecting buildings.

AIG insures about 30 to 40 homes worth at least $1 million each that are being threatened by the Castle Rock Fire, said Dorothy Sarna, the company’s national director for risk management services. She said the firetruck the company dispatched to the area was working to protect 10 to 12 of the homes with a protective barrier of fire retardant.

“We have some pretty sophisticated models that tell us where the fire is, and then we pinpoint where our policy holders are,” she said in a telephone interview.

She said the company insures about 200 expensive homes in the Ketchum area.

Elsewhere in the state, the 317-square-mile East Zone Complex of wildfires remained about 10 percent contained. It’s burning east of Donnelly on national forest land.

Nancy Guerrero, fire information officer, said crews were working to clean up hot spots after two days of rain, but expected the fire to pick up again since dry weather was forecast.

“Things are going to start getting hot and heavy again pretty darn soon,” she said.

The communities of Warren, Secesh and South Fork remain under a voluntary evacuation. Guerrero said there have been no significant injuries or buildings lost in the last several days.

The Cascade Complex of fires, burning about 16 miles east of Cascade, was 11 percent contained. That fire complex by Wednesday had burned about 256 square miles.

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