Destructive Wildfire Season a Reminder California is Epicenter for Fire Activity

September 16, 2015

The Valley Fire, which raged through Northern California over the weekend, spread quickly—from 50 to 50,000 acres within a 24-hour period— destroying hundreds of homes and businesses.

According to catastrophe modeling firm AIR Worldwide, the fire which started in the early morning hours on Saturday, September 12, on Cobb Mountain, the Valley Fire has consumed 61,000 acres (95 square miles) and destroyed 400 homes and hundreds of structures in Lake County.

As a result of the fast moving fire, Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in Lake and Napa Counties. There are nearly a dozen fires that are actively burning in the state, including the Rough fire near the Sequoia National Forest and the Butte Fire northeast of Stockton, Mercury Insurance stated in a release on the subject.

“The drought in California is so severe that the slightest spark or lightning strike can ignite an inferno,” says Mercury’s Chief Claims Officer Randy Petro.

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.

California is the epicenter of wildfire activity in the United States. Seven of the ten costliest wildfires in U.S. history in terms of insured losses have occurred in California. The costliest of these was the 1991 Oakland Hills fire which produced $2.7 billion in claims (in 2014 dollars). The most recent was the 2007 Witch Fire near San Diego, which resulted in insured losses of $1.5 billion (also in 2014 dollars).


By households By percent By insured wildfire loss
Rank State Households at high or extreme risk from wildfires (1) Rank State Percent of households at high or extreme risk from wildfires Rank State Largest insured wildfire loss (year)
1 California 1,989,100 1 Idaho 24.1% 1 California $1.7 billion (1991)
2 Texas 1,299,800 2 Colorado 16.9 2 Colorado $450 million (2012)
3 Colorado 373,600 3 California 14.5 3 Texas $530 million (2011)
4 Washington 163,400 4 New Mexico 13.6 4 New Mexico $140 million (2000)
5 Idaho 160,800 5 Texas 13.0 5 Arizona $120 million (2002)
6 Oregon 159,800 6 Utah 12.8 6 Idaho NA
7 Arizona 159,100 7 Oregon 9.5 7 Nevada NA
8 Utah 125,500 8 Washington 5.7 8 Oregon NA
9 New Mexico 122,600 9 Arizona 5.6 9 Utah NA
10 Nevada 59,100 10 Nevada 5.1 10 Washington NA

(1) Number of households is based on data from the 2010 U.S. Census.

NA=Data not available.

Source: Verisk Insurance Solutions – Underwriting and Verisk Climate units of Verisk Analytics.

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