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Rich People Pay for Private Firefighters While the Rest of Us Burn

Insurance companies offer exclusive firefighting services for high-paying clients that can help them mitigate the worst consequences of wildfire disasters. Most other people aren’t so lucky.

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Nov 13 2018, 7:22pm

At least 44 people have been killed in California a result of the wildfires that have burned more than 100,000 acres of land in the state. The most vulnerable populations, including the elderly and people with disabilities, are at the highest risk of perishing in the fires, which were made more likely by climate change that exacerbated dryness and tinder availability in fire-prone areas.

But, of course, some people can afford to opt out of climate chaos. TMZ reported Tuesday that Kim Kardashian and Kanye West paid for private firefighters to protect their $60 million home in Hidden Hills, California, after the couple evacuated the home under mandatory state orders. The firefighters were reportedly successful in saving the home.

The Kardashian-Wests are not the only people who can afford to tap into private wealth to mitigate the most costly damage of climate change-related disasters. Insurance companies such as AIG provide wildfire mitigation services that allow certain clients to reduce risk and save themselves in the event of a worst-case fire scenario.

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AIG’s Private Client Group’s Wildfire Protection Unit, for instance, is made up of AIG employees who are certified through state or local authorities. In addition to protecting homes with flame retardants, these AIG employees respond to fires and map homes in real time as wildfires approach.

According to NBC, members of AIG’s Risk Management and Loss Prevention policy group, who qualify for Wildfire Protection Unit services, occupy 42 percent of the Forbes list of the 400 richest Americans.

Wildfire mitigation is largely encouraged by coalitions of insurance companies. PURE, an insurance company that lets high-paying clients tap into the resources of Pure’s Group of Insurance Companies, offers a Wildfire MItigation Program for residents in 11 wildfire-prone states, including California. The service, which is offered as part of a client’s regular insurance payment, includes proactive fire risk consultations and the installation of sprinklers and application fire retardants.

Similarly, The National Association of Insurance Commissioners created the Community Wildfire Protection Plan, which essentially involves assessing different neighborhoods for their risk of wildfires so that insurance companies can act accordingly. The association also outlines possibilities of wildfire insurance arranged in tiers of most coverage to least coverage.

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Just how big is this industry? For perspective, the National Wildfire Suppression Association represents 150 wildfire contract service companies with more than 10,000 employees. It can cost in excess of $100,000 just to enter the field of private firefighting work, meaning individual missions can cost insurance companies tens of thousands of dollars.

The need for a private firefighting industry is fueled by the growing risk of climate change-related damages, which is exacerbated by defunding and undermining action related to climate change at the federal level.

Trump notably halted American payment into the Green Climate Fund, a UN-organized fund designed to help economically vulnerable countries that have contributed little to climate change abide by the terms of the Paris Accord. Recently, he expressed doubt about the veracity of a United Nations report, which said that global governments would need to fundamentally restructure their economic systems in to mitigate the worse effects of climate change. This month, the EPA removed its once climate change dedicated page entirely, under the instruction of Trump and his administration.

This week, Trump blamed the severity of the California wildfires on poor forest management on the state level, a program for which he threatened to pull federal funding.

Correction: An earlier version of this suggested that AIG was part of Pure insurance. They are two separate companies.

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