Category Archives: Wildfires

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.”


“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.

Canadian Wildfire Underscores Risk

If ever there were an example of the real danger posed by wildfires, the Fort McMurray wildfire in Alberta, Canada is it.

Firefighters are struggling to control this massive fire that started last Sunday, is estimated to have destroyed more than 1,600 structures in Fort McMurray and has resulted in more than 80,000 evacuations.

As reports here, record high temperatures exceeding 32 C (90 F) and extremely dry air, together with strong winds have enabled the wildfire to grow and spread rapidly.

AIR Worldwide also reports:

“With very few exceptions, catastrophic wildfires occur when three conditions are met simultaneously: dry heat maximizes the volatility of vegetation; extreme winds, which can drive the propagation of a fire through that vegetation, occur; and a fire ignites close to a moderately or heavily populated area.”

All three of these conditions have occurred in the Fort McMurray vicinity, and AIR Worldwide notes: “the wildfire that is now happening there is certainly catastrophic.”

While it is too soon to know the extent of the damage and the size of the Fort McMurray wildfire insurance loss, some early reports are helpful.

AIR Worldwide makes the important point that because of the oil industry, housing in the Fort McMurray area is more expensive than its remoteness would suggest and already it is clear that there has been a massive loss of property.

Losses arising from this fire will likely far exceed those resulting from the Slave Lake wildfire in 2011 that destroyed 522 homes and structures, it suggests. The Slave Lake wildfire cost insurers more than C$700 million at the time, according to the Insurance Bureau of Canada.

One analyst at Bank of Montreal observed that if Fort McMurray has to be completely rebuilt, insured losses could reach as high as C$9 billion ($7 billion), making this the costliest insured disaster in Canadian history.

This catastrophe is also a reminder that wildfires pose a significant risk across the United States.

For more on how to protect property from wildfire damage and to reduce the costs associated with wildfire damage check out information from the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS).

California Wildfires: A Billion Dollar Loss

Wildfires in 2015 have already caused more damage and financial loss in the United States than in any other year since 2007.

Aon Benfield’s latest Global Catastrophe Recap report reveals that California wildfires during September destroyed more than 2,000 homes and resulted in estimated insured losses of at least $1.1 billion–the costliest since 2007.

The Valley Fire, northwest of San Francisco, and the Butte Fire, southeast of Sacramento, were the most destructive of the fires.

In its report, Aon notes that the Valley Fire left four people dead, destroyed 1,958 residential and commercial structures and damaged 93 others. It is the third-most damaging wildfire in state history.

Total economic losses were estimated beyond $1.5 billion, while preliminary insured losses were put at in excess of $925 million, Aon reports.

The Butte Fire left two people dead and destroyed 475 homes, 343 outbuildings and damaged 45 other structures. It is the seventh most damaging wildfire in state history.

Total economic losses were estimated at $450 million while preliminary estimated insured losses are in excess of $225 million.

With the peak of California wildfire season just beginning, the severity of the September events serves as a reminder of how costly the peril can be for the insurance industry, Aon Benfield said.

Elsewhere around the world, wildfires continued to pose problems in parts of Indonesia as officials declared 2015 the worst year for wildfires since 1997.

One study reported that Indonesia would endure $4 billion in direct and secondary economic losses from the fires in the regions of Sumatra and Kalimantan, Aon said.

The Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) provides some useful facts and statistics on wildfires here.

A recent I.I.I. media advisory notes that seven of the 10 costliest wildfires in U.S. history in terms of insured losses have occurred in California. The costliest of these was the 1991 Oakland fire which produced $2.7 billion in claims (in 2014 dollars).

For more on the California wildfires, Janet Ruiz, I.I.I.’s Northern California-based representative can be reached at or (707) 490-9375.

All Things Wildfire

A report in USA Today throws the spotlight on just how many homes in California are vulnerable to wildfire.

Data from the U.S. Forest Service cited by USA Today reveals that one-third of homes in California are located in areas prone to wildfires.

Apparently the Forest Service’s report estimates that 4.5 million homes in California are located in areas designated as the Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI)–developments and communities adjacent to forests.

USA Today goes on to note that California wildfires have destroyed more than 750 houses and hundreds of other buildings in the past week based on figures from CalFire, the state’s firefighting agency.

The Valley fire near Sacramento has been one of the most destructive. Mark C. Bove, senior research meteorologist with Munich Re America tweeted that for Northern California the Valley Fire is likely the biggest wildfire event in terms of insured loss since the Oakland firestorm of 1991. has  a timely  roundup of the impact of the Valley and Butte fires here. Another useful resource is I.I.I.’s issues update on wildfires.

In a media advisory the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) notes that seven of the 10 costliest wildfires in U.S. history in terms of insured losses have occurred in California. The costliest of these was the 1991 Oakland fire which produced $2.7 billion in claims (in 2014 dollars).

Over the 20-year period 1995 to 2014, fires–including wildfires–accounted for 1.5 percent of insured catastrophe losses, totaling about $6.0 billion, according to the Property Claims Services (PCS) unit of ISO.

Janet Ruiz, I.I.I.’s Northern California-based representative, is available to conduct interviews in person or via Skype. She can be reached at or (707) 490-9375.

The Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) offers tips on how to protect your property from wildfire here.

A 2015 study by CoreLogic identifies almost 900,000 residential properties across 13 states in the western U.S. –representing an estimated combined total property value of more than $237 billion–at high or very high risk of wildfire damage.

Active Wildfire Season Likely

Nearly 37 percent of the United States and more than 98 percent of the state of California is in some form of drought, according to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor.

Its weekly update shows that more than 44 percent of California is now in a state of exceptional drought, with little relief in sight.

The report says:

Continued dryness resulted in an expansion of Exceptional Drought (D4) in northwest California. Statewide snowpack remains at 5 percent as of April 6, 2015.”

Here’s the visual on that:


What  could this mean for wildfire season?

The April 1 Outlook issued by the National Interagency Fire Center warned that parts of California will likely see increased wildfire activity earlier than usual thanks to the effects of the long-term drought.

Here’s what the significant wildfire potential looks like by June and July:


Meanwhile, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) recently issued Spring Outlook calls for drought conditions to persist in California, Nevada and Oregon through June with the onset of the dry season in April.

In its Outlook, NOAA said:

If the drought persists as predicted in the Far West, it will likely result in an active wildfire season, continued stress on crops due to low reservoir levels, and an expansion of water conservation measures.”

I.I.I. facts and statistics on wildfires and insurance are available here.


California Wildfire Risk

Images of wildfires burning in suburban neighborhoods in Southern California are a reminder of the risk faced by many homeowners.

Nearly  2 million, or  14.5 percent, of the 13.7 million homes in California face severe wildfire risk, according to the most recent FireLine State Risk Report by Verisk Underwriting Solutions.

Some 417,500 of these high-risk homes are located in Los Angeles County, while 239,400 are located in San Diego County.

Check out this snapshot from the Verisk report illustrating California’s wildfire risk:

For the latest information on the wildfires burning in the state go to the CAL FIRE (California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection) site.

I.I.I. facts and statistics on wildfires are available here.

Rim Fire Update

The Los Angeles Times reports that the rate of spread of the massive Rim fire burning near Yosemite National Park in California has slowed in recent days and firefighters expect to have it fully contained by September 10.

As of August 29, CAL FIRE (California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection) reports that the fire, which started August 17, has burned 192,737 acres and is 30 percent contained.

At least 111 structures have been destroyed by the fire, which is reported to be the sixth largest in California history.

Check out I.I.I. facts and statistics on wildfires for more info.

Here are two NASA satellite images of the fire,  showing its impact on the landscape and atmosphere.

The first shows the plume of carbon monoxide pollution from the Rim Fire now extends into Canada. The second measures the height of the smoke plumes from the fire, showing that the smoke particles have reached altitudes as high as four miles.


A time lapse video of the fire posted by the Yosemite blog is currently going viral.

NASA: Satellite and Climate Data Shows Increasing Wildfire Risk

We start the week with a new animation from NASA that shows the increasing risk of wildfire activity across the United States in the coming decades.

An article on the NASAÂ  website notes that with satellite and climate data, scientists have been able to track an increase in dry conditions since the 1980s.

Climate projections suggest this trend will continue, increasing the risk of fire in the Great Plains and Upper Midwest by the end of the 21st Century, according to NASA.

NASA explains:

The newest generation of climate models project drier conditions that likely will cause increased fire activity across the United States in coming decades. These changes are likely to come in a number of different forms, including longer fire seasons, larger areas at risk of wildfire, and an increase in the frequency of extreme events – years like 2012 in the western United States.†

Fire seasons are starting earlier due to warmer spring temperatures and earlier snowmelt, and they are lasting longer into the fall, NASA notes.

It cites NIFC statistics indicating that 100,000-acre wildfires are becoming increasingly frequent.

Here’s the animation:

Hat tip to CNET for its blog  post on this story.

Check out I.I.I. facts and statistics on wildfires, and a backgrounder on climate change insurance issues.

Wildfire Risk Potential Grows Amid Hot and Dry Weather

It’s mid-July and for many parts of the United States this means persistent hot and dry weather increases the risk of wildfires.

Some 46 percent of the contiguous United States is currently experiencing moderate to exceptional drought conditions, according to Tuesday’s report from the U.S. Drought Monitor.

The first monthly drought outlook from NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center recently warned that drought in the U.S. Southwest is exceptionally intense and unlikely to break completely, despite some relief from the summer thunderstorm season. Most of the already parched West will likely see drought persist or worsen, NOAA said.

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reports that overgrown forest land poses fire risk to a growing number of communities.

It cites U.S. Forest Service statistics that 65 million to 82 million of National Forest lands are at a “high or very high risk of fire† and are in need of restoration.

Between 1960 and 1970, there was only one year, 1969, when wildfires burned more than five million acres in the U.S. In the last decade, it happened eight out of 10 years, the WSJ adds.

As of July 1, some 11 wildfire, heat and drought events have resulted in an estimated $365 million in insured losses in 2013, according to Munich Re.

Aon’s June Global Catastrophe Recap notes that the Black Forest Fire near Colorado Springs became the most damaging fire in Colorado’s history and left two dead. The fire charred 14,280 acres of land and destroyed at least 511 homes. Insurers received at least 4,500 claims with payouts in excess of $350 million. Due to dozens of destroyed uninsured or underinsured homes, the overall economic loss will approach $500 million, Aon added.

On June 30, 19 firefighters were killed while working to contain the Yarnell Hill Fire in Arizona. This is the deadliest event for firefighters since 9/11 and the third highest firefighter death toll attributed to wildfires.

More information is available via Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) facts and statistics on wildland fires and droughts and heat waves.