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New bill adds farmers, wineries to California's Fair Plan fire insurance pool

The San Diego County Farm Bureau says there are about 5,000 farms in the county, many of them owned by local families.

SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — Governor Gavin Newsom recently signed a bill that will help farms and wineries get fire insurance coverage when other private insurance companies turn them down.

The Fair Plan is an insurance pool required by the state to provide basic insurance coverage for homes. Now with SB 11, farmers and winery owners can join this plan to protect their buildings and equipment.

“It’s climate change. It’s going to get worse every year. The fires are getting more intense. The firefighters are tired,” said farmer, Al Stehly. 

Stehly has been farming in Valley Center for 30 years. He says over the years, his barn burned down, and he and his employees had to personally protect his property from another fire back in 2007.

“That hill burned. We stood here with shovels and fought the fire back,” Stehly said. 

The San Diego County Farm Bureau says there are about 5,000 farms in the county, many of them owned by local families. Agriculture is a $1.8-billion industry and San Diego County is the number one provider of nursery crops in the country. 

Farm Bureau Executive Director Hannah Gbeh said farmers in high-risk fire zones will now have a plan they can fall back on.

“We have had farms here in San Diego County unable to obtain insurance coverage and lost everything in the event of a fire. Not just their crops, but their homes and their buildings and their equipment. So the importance of the fail-safe, state Fair Plan cannot be understated,” Gbeh said. 

Still, some in the winery business don’t believe the bill is enough because the plan only covers up to $3 million.

So far in 2021, Cal Fire reports that there have been over 5,600 wildfire incidents across the state.

“You can’t prevent all wildfires. It’s going to come. Once a fire is coming, I kind of think it’s like trying to stop an earthquake. You just can’t stop it. Maybe you can survive it," Stehly said. 

Stehly said even with SB 11, farmers across the state are working with consultants to come up with more ways they can be proactive when it comes to keeping wildfires for getting out of control. 

WATCH RELATED: Challenges of getting fire insurance in fire-prone areas - Sept. 2020