A Firm Foundation: How Insurance Supports the Economy

Fire plays an important role in the life of a forest, clearing away dead wood and undergrowth to make way for younger trees. But for much of the last century, fire-suppression policies have sought to extinguish wildfires as quickly as possible to preserve timber and real estate. This approach has led to the accumulation of brush and other vegetation that is easily ignited and serves as fuel for wildfires. Most of the large fires with significant property damage have occurred in California, where some of the fastest developing counties are in forest areas that were once largely uninhabited. These areas, known as the Wildland-Urban Interface, contained about a third of all housing units in the United States in 2017, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

Top 10 Costliest Wildland Fires In The United States (1)

($ millions)

      Estimated insured loss
Rank Year Name Dollars when occurred In 2020 dollars (2)
1 2018 Camp Fire $10,000 $10,260
2 2017 Tubbs Fire 8,700 9,120
3 2018 Woolsey Fire 4,200 4,310
4 1991 Tunnel Fire (Oakland Hills Fire) 1,700 3,200
5 2017 Atlas Fire 3,000 3,140
6 2017 Thomas Fire 2,250 2,360
7 2007 Witch Fire 1,600 1,980
8 2003 Cedar Fire 1,060 1,480
9 2003 Old Fire 980 1,360
10 2018 Carr Fire 1,250 1,280

(1) Includes losses sustained by private insurers and government-sponsored programs such as the National Flood Insurance Program. Includes events that occurred through 2019. All fires on this list occurred in California. Includes Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Ranked on losses in 2020 dollars. Subject to change as loss estimates are further developed. As of November 25, 2020.

(2) Adjusted for inflation by Aon using the U.S. Consumer Price Index.

Source: Aon.

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