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RMS estimates up to $13bn insured loss from Californian fires

19th November 2018 - Author: Charlie Wood

Catastrophe risk modelling firm RMS has estimated between a $9 billion and $13 billion insured loss from the Camp and Woolsey wildfires which continue to devastate large areas of California.

Camp Wildfire

A gas station destroyed by the Camp fire. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

This estimate includes property and auto damage, including burn and smoke damage, business interruption, additional living expenses, and contents loss.

RMS says the wildfires have so far destroyed more than 12,000 homes and businesses, burned a combined total of 245,000 acres and killed 80 people.

The Camp fire in particular is the most destructive fire in California history, burning 11,000 structures and causing 77 deaths alone, with more than 1,000 people still missing.

RMS notes that this fire season represents the second consecutive year with more than $10 billion in insured wildfire loss.

Preliminary estimates from Credit Suisse put insured losses for the recent wildfires in the range of $5 billion to $10 billion, while Moody’s said $3 billion to $6 billion and Morgan Stanley put losses for the Camp Wildfire alone at between $2 billion and $4 billion.

“Wildfire is now a major catastrophe risk that must be rigorously managed with the best data and model science,” said Mohsen Rahnama, Chief Risk Modeling Officer, RMS.

“With increasing exposure due to properties near wildland areas and ongoing climate variability, insurers, policymakers, and homeowners must adapt to the prospect of more frequent and severe wildfires.”

RMS states that, while the fuel landscape between the two fires differs significantly, with heavy Northern Californian forestry characterising the Camp fire and Southern Californian shrubland in the Woolsey Fire, both developed under dangerous conditions that favour quick fire spread.

These dangerous conditions are characterised by low moisture, abnormally high temperatures, dry vegetation, and intense seasonal winds; both fires travelled quickly through steep, hilly, vegetated terrain.

The town of Paradise has suffered the worst losses of the Camp fire, having narrowly avoided catastrophic wildfires many times over the past 20 years.

Thirteen large fires since 1999 have burned inside the current footprint of the Camp fire.

The Woolsey fire, igniting in Ventura County and jumping the Highway 101 before spreading to Malibu, resulted in over 250,000 evacuations and burned more than 1,450 high value properties.

The area around the Woolsey fire shares a similar, if less stark, history of frequent fires. RMS says six large fires since 1999 intersect the Woolsey footprint.

“In the wake of consecutive record-breaking wildfire seasons, we are hopeful that more focus will be placed on fire mitigation, safe construction practices, and community resilience,” added Rahnama

The model’s findings were supported by damage reports from CAL FIRE as of 18 November, observations from displaced residents, and information from firefighting personnel.

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