SACRAMENTO, Calif. —  A beautiful view of Tahoe National Forest and the emerald waters of the South Yuba River greets Charity Jackson’s guests when they stay at the historic Washington Hotel in Nevada county, which opened in 1857.

What You Need To Know

  • The reinsurance company Munich Re reports wildfires have caused more than $30 billion in insured losses in California since 2017

  • Big name insurers are scaling back property insurance business in California due to wildfires

  • High-severity wildfire is increasing in Sierra Nevada and Southern Cascade forests, and has been burning at unprecedented rates compared to the years before Euro-American settlement

  • Mom-n-pop rural businesses face shutting down due to increased premiums on commercial property insurance

“We’re like curators, right?” Jackson said. “This place is really a museum, even though we’re still operating. You know, it’s a piece of history.”

Keeping the doors open to the modestly priced hotel, where rooms start at $75 a night, has become increasingly difficult.

Jackson and her husband’s latest property insurance bill dramatically increased because of wildfire coverage, as the hotel sits in a very high wildfire severity zone.

“In December of last year, I got my renewal notice for the fair plan, for the hotel, that was due Jan. 3 for $33,491,” Jackson said.

For the last three years under their California Fair Plan, they had been paying just under $11,000. The new plan was a huge shock, especially given they are a mom-and-pop run business. 

She said she’s already had to take back bar shifts from her staff who work in the hotel’s bar to help offset some of the cost, something Jackson said hurt.

“We make a living here, but we don’t make a killing,” Jackson said. “We don’t have that kind of money just sitting around.”

The price was high in the renewal letter because of a 400 feet wildfire mitigation circle, which Jackson claimed was impossible.

“I don’t own 100 feet in any direction,” Jackson said. “Also 400 feet, as you can see, goes into other private properties all around me and also Tahoe National Forest.”

Jackson said a volunteer group contacted her to help clear her land, but that was scheduled in March at the same time the town was under huge snowpacks.

She has spent countless hours contacting officials at all levels and organizations to find out ways to get her premiums down, but has had little luck.

A growing number of insurance providers are not offering new policies and increasing premiums because of wildfire severity across the state is so high.

Program specialist with nonprofit United Policyholders Joel Laucher said in smaller towns, the saying “it takes a village” rings true in helping bring down insurance costs.

“It’s a pretty challenging situation and in some ways, you could expect it to get worse,” Laucher said. “It’s so important today to get community involvement and beyond of doing these concentric circles of mitigation.” 

Through a GoFundMe and other fundraising efforts with the help of the community, Jackson said she was able to pay the insurance this year, but said next year is uncertain.

“What’s daunting is it’s coming again,” Jackson said. “You know, and also can they just raise it whenever they want, by however much they want, for whatever policy they decide to implement. I don’t know, scary.”

She said she hopes to reschedule with the volunteer group to come out and help clear her land once the summer season slows down.

The thought of next year’s bill, Jackson said, is a scary prospect she and her husband are trying to figure out, and knows other businesses are in the same position.

She hopes state leaders will hear their concerns so the iconic hotel can keep welcoming guests like it has for over a century.