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Devastating Hawaii wildfires estimated to have destroyed 1,700+ buildings

11th August 2023 - Author: Kane Wells

The wildfire outbreaks in Hawaii have reportedly destroyed 1,700+ buildings thus far, indicating a potential extensive loss for the re/insurance industry, while the death toll has risen to 55, with as many as 1,000 people missing.

According to CoreLogic’s hazard blog from August 10, the greatest concentration of damage is in Lahaina, a town on Maui’s western coast.

As per a County of Maui press release from Aug 9, 271 structures were damaged or destroyed in the town of 13,000.

Governor of Hawaii, Josh Green, has since issued a fourth emergency proclamation related to the wildfires, which he said have destroyed an estimated 1,700 buildings.

Dr Thomas Jeffery, CoreLogic Principal Wildfire Scientist, commented, “The source and ignition of the fire are still undetermined, but once the fire moved into the more developed regions of Lahaina, it appears the fire was able to intensify and spread very quickly.

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“The winds likely pushed embers and flames into the built environment, and then the buildings in Lahaina became the primary source of fuel for the expansion of the fire.”

CoreLogic noted that the situation in Maui is currently ongoing and that the full extent of the damage will be unknown for some time.

Meanwhile, analysts in a recent BMS report highlighted that Hawaii has always had a wildfire problem, adding that each year, 0.5% of Hawaii’s total land area burns, which is equal to or greater than the proportion burned in any other U.S. State.

“We do not hear about it because larger mainland fires impacting more significant populations have grabbed the headlines until now,” BMS analysts explained.

The analysts continued, “According to the FEMA National Risk Index for the census tract containing Lahaina along the coastline, the building value totals $847m.

“Given some simple analysis, this loss could be the highest since Hurricane Iniki in 1992, which in today’s dollars, would be $3.3B of insured losses.”

BMS said that other recent events with significant insured losses in the state included the volcanic eruption of Kīlauea in 2018. In today’s dollars, this equates to $338M in losses, and Hurricane Lane, also in 2018, which resulted in losses of $58M.

BMS analysts concluded, “Currently, it is too early to provide an insurance industry loss estimate for the Lahaina wildfire. We have seen a long loss development period from wildfire events as there is uncertainty around replacement cost, loss of use, and business interruption, all of which will come into play.”

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