Category Archives: Wildfires

The Week in a Minute, 12/8/17

The I.I.I.’s Michael Barry has been attending the National Association of Insurance Commissioners’ meeting. This week, I.I.I. Daily editor Jennifer Ha picks the week’s most important insurance stories.

  • Record winds are fanning the flames of three major wildfires in Southern California. Already 200 homes and buildings have been destroyed, and tens of thousands of persons face evacuation.
  • Damage claims related to the October wildfires that hit the state’s Wine Country have risen to $9 billion. The state tracks the losses reported to major insurance companies, and the recent losses are far greater than any other wildfire outbreak in state history.
  • The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has filed claims with private reinsurers for the full $1.042 billion the agency has in coverage. The claims are being sought to help FEMA recover the losses of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) from Hurricane Harvey. Meanwhile, Congress approved a short-term (December 22) extention for the NFIP.

I.I.I. members receive the I.I.I. Daily for the latest insurance-related news for free. Nonmembers can purchase a subscription. Contact daily@iii.org.

More Wildfires, This Time in Southern California

The worst wildfire season in the history of modern California is taking another bad turn, as three major fires have destroyed more than 200 homes and buildings.

Strong winds will be fanning the flames. The state’s foresters have issued a purple wind alert for Southern California, something they have never done before.

This follows a Department of Insurance report that insurers have incurred more than $9 billion in claims so far from the October fires, being $8.4 billion in residential claims, $790 million in commercial property, $96 million in personal and commercial auto, and $110 million from other commercial lines. County-level details here.

The New York Times has a 2-minute video summarizing why this year’s wildfire season has been so bad.

Their take:

  • Wet winter followed by hot summer. The moisture encouraged plant growth. The heat turned those plants to tinder.
  • Longer fire season, perhaps linked to climate change.
  • Growing residential areas. Development is encroaching on forests.
  • Santa Ana winds. As noted above, the winds are blowing harder this year.

I.I.I. Facts + Statistics on wildfire can be found here. Here’s a prior Terms + Conditions post on filing claims. (It was written for the October fires, but the message will not have changed much.)

Cleanup from the North Bay Fire Storm

The State of California launched the largest wildfire cleanup in the Golden State’s history on Monday, October 23rd, following the unprecedented North Bay Fire Storm.  I.I.I.’s California representative Janet Ruiz attended a press conference hosted on Monday by the City of Santa Rosa where government representatives answered questions about debris removal. Here are a few of the questions and answers:

Q: Who is in charge of the cleanup?

A: The clean-up will be done under unified command with California Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES), FEMA, the Environmental Protection Agency and the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Q: What is the timeline?

A: This command structure is expected to expedite the removal of fire debris in Sonoma County, with a deadline of completion anticipated to be early 2018.

Q: What is the first priority?

A: The first phase of the cleanup will be household hazardous waste and debris including propane tanks, burned out vehicles, air conditioners and refrigerators.

Q: Will homeowners have to pay for the cleanup?

A: Cal OES will accept insurance debris removal payouts as full payment. Removal will be free to homeowners who don’t have insurance.

Q: Are homeowners required to participate?

A: Homeowners can opt out of this program and hire their own licensed contractor to do their debris removal if they prefer.

For more information on the recovery efforts visit sonomacountyrecovers.

Northern California Wildfires: Filing a Claim

Now that the recovery process from Northern California’s deadly wildfires is under way, the largest debris-removal campaign in California’s history is in progress. Thousands of insurance claims are pouring in and the state insurance department has issued and expedited claims handling notice for all property/casualty companies.

The Insurance Information Institute has the following resources related to the claims process:

The Insurance Institute for Home Safety (IIHS) also has a series of wildfire related publications.

And to be sure you are prepared in case of wildfire, I.I.I has this article: Preparing an Effective Evacuation Plan.

 

RMS: CA wildfires cost $3B to $6B – so far

Though the wildfires in California continue, RMS has estimated economic and insured losses between $3 billion and $6 billion, making this collection of wildfires the most expensive ever.

According to data from Property Claim Services as reported on the I.I.I web site, the most expensive wildfire previously was the 1991 Oakland Hills fire, which incurred losses of about $2.75 billion, adjusted for inflation.

Because the penetration rate for insurance is so high in this region, RMS says its figure represents both economic and insured loss.
Further details:

The range includes loss due to property damage, contents and business interruption caused by the burn component of the fires to residential, commercial, and industrial lines of business.

It does not include automobile or agricultural crop losses, smoke damage, or any factor for post-loss amplification. Because of the impacts to the wine industry throughout the region, RMS notes the significant uncertainty regarding the long-term business interruption for this event, which could result in a higher total loss.

It is important to note that these events are still on-going and the perimeters of the active fires may change significantly before containment. Therefore, these exposure and loss estimate are considered preliminary and are representative of the current situations.

California Wildfires: What’s Next?

More than a dozen fires have burned more than 1,500 structures in Northern California, with more than a dozen dead as of Tuesday afternoon.

CNN lays down the facts:

  • More than 119,000 acres burned, much of it in wine country – Napa and Sonoma counties.
  • Fires surged behind hurricane force winds (79 mph gusts) – about the same speed as Hurricane Nate at its landfall a few days ago.
  • Nearly 35,000 are without power.
  • No rain is forecast for the next seven days.

Cat modeling firm RMS notes that the fires, taken together, are already the fifth most destructive in state history, as measured in the number of homes destroyed.

The Insurance Information Institute has background information on wildfires here.

The The Insurance Industry Charitable Foundation (IICF) has opened the IICF California Wildfire Relief Fund to assist in the growing need across the state.  To donate click here.

Our thoughts obviously are with all of the families in peril right now.

Janet Ruiz, I.I.I.’s California representative, notes that wildfires differ from other catastophes like hurricane or tornado, in that the loss is more likely to be a total loss — the entire home burns along with its contents. Compounding the tragedy, often that includes the receipts and other evidence of ownership that make it easy to document what has been lost.

Her other thoughts:

  • Coverage for alternative living expenses (reimbursement while waiting to return home) may be available through your insurance company. Money you spend on housing, food, clothing, etc as a result of a mandatory evacuation may be covered.
  • After you have returned, report your claim right away to your insurance company. Insurers have multiple tools available to handle claims. Many will be onsite at local assistance centers or processing claims via mobile apps, online claims, call centers and more. Call your agent if you need additional assistance. Insurance companies are also proactively reaching out to people they know are in affected areas and may have a loss.

 

The Week in a Minute, 9/28/17

The III’s Michael Barry briefs our membership every week on key insurance related stories. Here are some highlights. 

  • One week after Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, the U.S. territory’s residents are dealing with extensive power outages and a breakdown of the supply chain which brings food and other essentials to the island.
  • The U.S. signed an agreement with the European Union (EU) governing how U.S. insurers and reinsurers are regulated in EU nations.
  • California’s Canyon Fire (Orange/Riverside Counties) and Grass Fire (Alameda County) have generated mandatory evacuations and widespread news coverage.

Tips for Wildfire Resiliency

Janet Ruiz, I.I.I.’s California representative wrote about what it takes to prepare for wildfires in this post last week. The first tip:

“Conduct an annual insurance check-up. Call your agent or insurance company annually to discuss your policy limits and coverage. Make sure your policy reflects the correct square footage and features in your home. Consider purchasing building code upgrade coverage.”

Property Casualty Insurers Association has come out with this wildfire preparedness tip list.

The I.I.I. has this frequently updated Wildfires Facts & Statistics page.

Wildfire Smoke Travels

Two wildfires in California prompted officials to issue air pollution warnings almost 200 miles away in Nevada this week, reminding us that wildfire exposure reaches far beyond the flames.

The Soberanes fire which is located in the Monterey County area is currently 23,688 acres in size and is 10 percent contained. The Sand Fire, which began on July 22, quickly grew to more than 30,000 acres and is now 38,346 acres in size and 40 percent contained.

In the first six months of 2016 there were 26,510 wildfires across the United States, compared to 29,078 wildfires in the first half of 2015, according to statistics from the National Interagency Fire Center, as reported by the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.).

Over the 20-year period 1995 to 2014, fires—including wildfires—accounted for 1.5 percent of insured catastrophe losses in the United States, totaling about $6 billion, according to the Property Claims Services (PCS) unit of ISO.

Smoke, soot and ash produced by large wildfires present a risk to property and life in the fire zone, not to mention a potential health risk to residents living in the path of the smoke.

It’s important to recognize that even if a property doesn’t suffer direct damage from flames in a wildfire, it may be exposed to extensive smoke, soot and ash damage.

From the insurance perspective, damage caused by fire and smoke are covered under standard homeowners, renters and business owners policies and under the comprehensive portion of an auto insurance policy.

However, it’s important to notify your agent or insurer of this damage on a timely and proper basis.

Water losses or other damage caused by fire fighters while extinguishing a fire is also covered under these policies.

Here’s a visual of the smoke from the California wildfires, courtesy of NOAA and Weather Underground:

Screen Shot 2016-07-28 at 10.03.28 AM

Check out I.I.I. claims filing tips here.

Global Insured Disaster Losses in May: $7 billion and Counting

At least $7 billion—that’s how much global disasters and severe weather are expected to cost insurers and reinsurers in May.

Aon Benfield’s latest Global Catastrophe Recap Report notes that the Fort McMurray wildfire in Alberta, Canada, will become the costliest disaster in the country’s history.

Insured losses—including physical damage and business interruption—are expected to be in excess of $3.1 billion, while total economic losses will be well into the billions of dollars.

The fire charred more than 580,000 hectares (1.43 million acres) of land and destroyed at least 10 percent of Fort McMurray, including more than 2,400 homes and other structures.

Remarkably, no direct casualties were reported from the event as it prompted the largest evacuation in the history of Alberta.

Adam Podlaha, global head of Impact Forecasting, says:

“The severity of wildfire damage in Fort McMurray is an unfortunate reminder of how significant insurable losses can be from the peril.”

And:

“Since this is just the sixth individual global wildfire to surpass the billion-dollar threshold for insurers, there is not a lot of precedent for a fire event of this magnitude.”

Check out Insurance Information Institute wildfire facts and statistics here.

Elsewhere, severe weather and flooding in Europe where the storm ‘Elvira’ swept across parts of northern Europe between late May and early June caused most damage in Germany, France, Austria, Poland and Belgium, where floods impacted many major metro regions, including Paris.

Preliminary estimates from industry associations in France (MAIF) and Germany (GDV) put the estimated combined minimum claims payouts at in excess of $2.3 billion, while overall economic damage is tentatively estimated at $4.6 billion.

May also saw no fewer than five outbreaks of severe convective storms in the United States, affecting parts of the Plains, Midwest, and Mississippi Valley. Storm-related flooding also caused major damage in parts of Texas.

Total aggregated insured losses were estimated at over $1 billion, Aon’s Impact Forecasting unit said.

Meanwhile, Cyclone Roanu brought torrential rain to Sri Lanka, eastern India, Bangladesh, Myanmar and China during May, damaging or destroying nearly 125,000 homes and structures across all five countries. Estimated reconstruction costs were put at $1.7 billion, though insured losses are substantially less due to low insurance penetration.

Even after all that, May was not done, with other notable natural hazard events around the globe, including:

—Five separate instances of flooding impacted China as aggregated economic losses topped $1.5 billion. Most of the damage was attributed to agricultural interests.

—Other major flood and landslide events in May were reported in parts of Hispaniola, Kenya, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Rwanda, Ethiopia, India and Yemen.

—Tropical Storm Bonnie brought heavy rainfall to portions of the Carolinas and Georgia in the United States at the end of May and into June. Total economic losses were expected to be minimal.

—Earthquakes in Ecuador and China caused damages to thousands of homes and a winter weather outbreak in northern China caused damage to crops totaling $61 million.