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It's like health insurance, not car insurance. In the context of health insurance, when a problem arises, it might not be too late to save what is at stake, and if you're not insured, then you can still pay the full bill (what this guy or his neighbor offered to do). In the context of car insurance, the damage is done and cannot be prevented anymore.
Why would this be a municipal thing? This is about business and people not paying their bills (for the delivered service). So, they could take his house from him, not in the least because it *would still be there.*
The 75 USD is basically an insurance fee. If you don't pay the fee, then you should have to pay the full cost of the service... to put the fire out. Which is what this guy (or his neighbor) offered to do.
He (or his neighbor) was prepared to pay the full cost of putting the fire out, which one assumes would be less than the cost of rebuilding the house. What they did was immoral and stupid. Would they let somebody burn to death because of a minor mistake (not paying 75 USD)? I guess that in the world of the slashdotters who modded the parent insightful, they would.
Your analogy with car insurance is flawed. This is how it should go: when you have a wreck and you're not assured, you pay the full cost. Similarly, when your house is burning and you haven't paid your fee, then you pay to full cost of putting out the fire, not the full cost of the house. The owner did offer to pay this cost. Besides, I wonder, what would they have done if there were somebody inside?