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, 1996 to 2015, fires, including wildfires, accounted for 1.8 percent of insured catastrophes losses, totaling about $7.3 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.
- 2017: From January 1 to March 31, 2017, there were 13,458 wildfires, compared to 9,218 wildfires in the same period in 2016, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. About 2.2 million acres were burned in the 2017 period, compared with 776,132 in 2016. The annual average number acres burned is 340,117 for the period of 2006-2015. Large fire activity significantly increased in the Southern and Rocky Mountain Areas. Large fires have burned 822,308 acres in Oklahoma, Florida and Kansas, and the Perrytown Fire in Texas burned 318,156 acres.
- 2016 Widfire Season: 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.
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, 2015
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 10 Costliest Wildland Fires In The United States (1)
Verisk Insurance Solutions – Underwriting and Verisk Climate, units of Verisk Analytics. FireLine State Risk Report
© Insurance Information Institute, Inc. - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED