Doris Okonsky and her husband Daniel have clearer memories. They lost their Poway home in the Witch Creek fire and received a $5000 Sempra Energy Foundation grant. “It would be nice if they’d kick in more,” Doris Okonsky told me. “No amount is enough, especially when you lose everything, computers, all your clothes, and so on.”
The Okonskys were featured in a November 13, 2007 New York Times story. “Like many of the 14,000 homeowners who suffered losses,” according to the Times, “the Okonskys are discovering that the insurance on their hilltop home in San Diego County might not be enough to rebuild it.
“‘I have about $1.5 million coverage for dwelling only,’ Mr. Okonsky said, or the equivalent of about $230 per square foot of construction. ‘For custom-home construction I am getting prices like $350 up to $500 per square foot.’”
A woman who wanted to remain anonymous wrote me by email, “My feelings about Sempra are not favorable.” She said her home west of Ramona was burned in the Witch Creek fire at a time when she was still “in the process of trying to acquire” homeowners’ insurance. She currently lives in “a guesthouse.” “Irresponsibility should have consequences,” wrote the woman. “I understand that the small amount they offered at the restaurant was an effort to appease some people, but in my estimation there wasn’t much ‘heart’ behind it. And the tiny amount, although helpful, was just a tiny drop in a very large bucket.”
Milan Dimich, who lost his Ramona home, told me that the Sempra Energy Foundation people “were among many who helped after the fire. It was awful to go through that, but we’re just thankful nobody got hurt” in his household. Dimich is rebuilding with the help of homeowners’ insurance. He said he wants to avoid any appearance of complaining about the $5000 he and his wife received. He wants to move on.
Over the long haul, however, Dimich may pay the money back in increased utility rates. On February 25, Sempra Energy held its latest quarterly “earnings results conference call,” recorded for the benefit of shareholders. According to a transcript of the call, the company’s chairman, Don Felsinger, said he wanted to update his listeners “on SDG&E’s litigation regarding the 2007 wildfires.” He suggested that some homeowner claims have already been settled but that “additional costs necessary to resolve the remaining claims are likely to exceed the remaining” insurance of approximately $20 million. Felsinger expected to recover some of the money from “other potentially responsible parties, including Cox Communications, and amounts SDG&E will file [with the California Public Utilities Commission] to recover in rates.” Referring to “our ability to accrue recovery for these costs, either from utility customers or other third parties,” Felsinger said, “we expect to recover the vast majority of these costs.”