As many as 90 percent of wildland fires in the United States are caused by humans, according to the U.S. Department of Interior. Some human-caused fires result from campfires left unattended, the burning of debris, negligently discarded cigarettes and intentional acts of arson. The remaining 10 percent are started by lightning or lava.
Over the 20-year period, 1995 to 2014, fires, including wildfires, accounted for 1.5 percent of insured catastrophes losses, totaling about $6.0 billion, according to the Property Claims Services (PCS) unit of ISO. The term “catastrophe” in the property insurance industry denotes a natural or man-made disaster that is unusually severe. An event is designated a catastrophe by the industry when claims are expected to reach a certain dollar threshold, currently set at $25 million, and more than a certain number of policyholders and insurance companies are affected.
Damage caused by fire and smoke are covered under standard homeowners, renters and business owners insurance policies and under the comprehensive portion of an auto insurance policy. Water or other damage caused by fire fighters to extinguish the fire is also covered under these policies. In California the California FAIR Plan covers residential and commercial properties located in brush and wildfire areas. Properties in those areas are subject to higher rates due to increased risk of fire.
- Research: A 2015 study by CoreLogic identifies almost 900,000 residential properties across 13 states in the western U.S. currently at high or very high risk of wildfire damage. They represent a combined total property value estimated at more than $237 billion. Of the total properties identified, 192,000 homes fall into the very high risk category, with total residential exposure valued at more than $49 billion.
- California, Colorado and Texas are the states with the largest number of properties categorized as very high risk, with a combined property value exceeding 36 billion. The exposure jumps to $188 billion when properties at high and very high risk are included.
- The cost of fighting wildfires reached $3.5 billion per year from 2002 to 2012 according to a report by Headwaters Economics, a nonprofit Research group.
- Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences researchers have concluded that by 2050 the number of wildfires in the West could rise by 50 percent, and across the U.S. the number would double.
- 2016 Widfire Season: On May 1, 2016 the National Interagency Fire Center released its National Significant Wildland Fire Potential Outlook for the 2016 fire season from May to August. Hawaii, Alaska and the Southwest face an above-average threat of wildfires this summer. The rest of the country should experience normal or below-normal threat conditions.
- From January 1 to September 2, 2016, there were 40,630 wildfires, compared to 44,080 wildfires in the same period in 2015. About 4.6 million acres were burned in the 2016 period, compared with 8.4 million in 2015.
- On May 1, 2016 a wildfire broke out in the Alberta city of Fort McMurray. The fire is set to become the costliest ever Canadian natural disaster for insurers, with 1,600 buildings destroyed and more under threat. Two fatalities are attributed to the fire and the entire population of about 90,000 were evacuated. The smoke from the fire could be seen as far south as Iowa.
- 2015 Wildfire Season: The 2015 fire season set a new record for the number of acres burned in the United States. Between January 1 and December 30, 2015 there were 68,151 wildfires, which burned 10,125,149 acres, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. During the same period in 2014, 63,417 fires burned 3,577,620 acres. The previous record was set in 2006 at 9,873,745 acres.
- 2014 Wildfire Season: Over the 20-year period, 1995 to 2014, fires, including wildfires, accounted for 1.5 percent of insured catastrophes losses, totaling about $6.0 billion, according to the Property Claims Services (PCS) unit of ISO.
- In 2014 there were 63,312 wildfires which burned over about 3.6 million acres.
- The Happy Camp Complex fire in California burned over 134,056 acres.
- The Carlton Complex fire in Washington state burned over 256,108 acres and was the largest fire in the state to date.
Researchers are discovering that embers blown by the wind during wildfires cause most of the fires that burn homes. Also, homes that are less than 15 feet apart are more likely to burn in clusters. In such cases, fire is often spread by combustible fences and decks connected to houses, a study by the Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) found.
The risk of wildfires is likely to continue to grow as temperatures rise, lengthening the fire season, and more people move into steep forested areas once largely uninhabited. Thirty-eight states have wildfire risks, according to IBHS, and the risk of wildfires keeps growing as more homes are built in wildland areas, some five million in California alone. Among the preventive features recommended in the IBHS study were noncombustible siding, decking and roofing materials; covered vents; and fences not connected directly to the house. In addition, combustible structures in the yard such as playground equipment should be at least 30 feet away from the house and vegetation 100 feet away.
Total Potential Exposure To Wildfire Damage By Risk Category, 2014 (1)
Top 10 Most Wildfire-Prone States, 2013
Natural Catastrophe Losses In The United States, 2015 (1)
Top 10 States For Wildfires Ranked By Number Of Fires And By Number Of Acres Burned, 2015
Top Ten Most Costly Wildland Fires In The United States (1)
Verisk Insurance Solutions – Underwriting and Verisk Climate, units of Verisk Analytics. FireLine State Risk Report, November, 2013.
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