Wildfires


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.

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.

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 NASA 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.

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.

More than two million California homes face extreme wildfire hazards and many of these homes are located in densely populated suburban neighborhoods, according to new industry research.

Analysis by the Insurance Information Network of California (IINC) and Verisk Insurance Solutions – Underwriting, reveals that the majority of these high-risk homes are located in Southern California, though Northern California has a higher percentage of high risk homes.

Candysse Miller, executive director of IINC, says:

Nearly 15 percent of the 13.5 million homes in California face severe wildfire risk. That’s nearly as many homes as are in the entire state of Colorado. Wildfire risk is not exclusive to mountain or rural communities. Many of these homes are in densely-populated suburban neighborhoods.”

More than 417,000 of these high-risk homes are located in Los Angeles County and Southern California counties represent 53 percent of the high-risk homes statewide, the study found.

However, Northern California has a higher percentage of high-risk homes. The counties of Alpine, Mariposa, Tuolumne and Nevada account for more than 95,000 homes, but more than 77 percent of these, or nearly 74,000, are considered high-risk.

Statewide, insurers protected more than $3 trillion of residential property in 2011, according to the California Department of Insurance, less than 1.25 percent of which was insured by the California FAIR Plan, the state’s insurer of last resort. As a result, private insurers cover nearly 99 percent of the insured residential properties in the state.

For a county-by-county view of California’s wildfire risk, check out this interactive map on the IINC website.

More facts and statistics on wildfires available here.

The worsening drought across the United States is the subject of numerous news reports. A couple of stories caught our eye:

CNN reports that as of last Tuesday, some 61 percent of the contiguous U.S. was experiencing drought conditions – stretching from Nevada to South Carolina. Apparently, this
is the highest percentage in the 12-year record of the U.S. Drought Monitor.

The Lede blog at the New York Times posts that more than 1,000 counties in 26 states across the
country have been named natural disaster areas by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It cites government officials saying this is the single largest designation in the program’s history and the worst drought since 1988.

Higher temperatures and drier conditions increase the risk of wildfire activity. In just the past three weeks, total acres scorched by wildfires jumped from 1.1 million to 3.1 million.

Over at Wunderblog, Dr. Jeff Masters posts that it has been another severe year for wildfires in the U.S., with the National Interagency Fire Center reporting 4800 square miles of burned acreage so far in 2012, an area about 87 percent the size of Connecticut:

This is pretty close to the 10-year average for this point in the year, and ranks as the fourth highest of the past ten years. However, with summer not yet half over, and more than 2/3 of the Western U.S. experiencing moderate to extreme drought, the Western U.S. fire season still have plenty of time to add significant acreage to its burn total.”

So far, Colorado has been hardest hit by this year’s wildfires. In its 2012 Half Year Natural Catastrophe Review Munich Re noted that two major wildfires in Colorado in June (the “High Park” fire near Fort Collins, and the “Waldo Canyon” fire near Colorado Springs) caused record damage in the state. Insured losses from both fires are estimated at US$ 500m, Munich Re said.

Check out I.I.I. facts and statistics on wildfires.

As wildfires continue to burn in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming and Arizona, we read that U.S. Forest Service chief Tom Tidwell is renewing his call to restore forests to a more natural state in which fire was part of the landscape.

The Associated Press reports that the Forest Service’s plan is to set the clock back to zero, accelerating restoration programs – including prescribed fires and mechanical thinning – by 20 percent each year in key areas that are facing the greatest danger of a catastrophic fire.

According to AP, four million acres are being targeted this year with a $1 billion budget.

Meanwhile, a new report from scientists at the University of California at Berkeley and Texas Tech University says that climate change will cause more wildfires across North America and Europe in the next 30 years.

The study used 16 different climate models to generate its results. Risk Management Monitor has more on its findings.

And a new climate analysis from NOAA notes that the U.S. experienced its hottest spring (March-May) on record, with an average temperature of 57.1°F, 5.2°F above the 1901-2000 long-term average, surpassing the previous warmest spring (1910) by 2.0°F.

With the warmest March, third warmest April and second warmest May, Spring 2012 marked the largest temperature departure from average of any season on record for the contiguous United States, NOAA says.

In May, ongoing drought, combined with windy conditions, created ideal wildfire conditions across the Southwest.

NOAA notes that the Whitewater-Baldy Fire complex in the Gila National Forest of western New Mexico had charred over 210,000 acres by the beginning of June, surpassing 2011’s Las Conchas Fire as the largest wildfire on record for the state. The Whitewater-Baldy fire is still burning.

Check out I.I.I. facts and statistics on wildfires.

The Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association (RMIIA) is a good resource for information on the Colorado wildfires.