Two California wildfires which occurred in September 2015 have caused insurance losses amounting to $1 billion, according to initial estimates released by officials.
The preliminary report was prepared by the California Department of Insurance, and was made public on Monday, January 25.
It was based on approximately 5,600 insurance claims made by locals up until December, and refers to 2 major wildfires that affected Northern California in 2015.
One of them was the Valley Fire, which began on September 12 in Lake County, and eventually affected the Sonoma and Napa Counties as well.
The wildfire, spanning across 76,067 acres, caused 4 casualties among local residents, as well as 4 injuries among firefighters. It also wreaked havoc to 1,955 structures, including 1,281 homes, 27 multi-dwelling units, and hundreds other buildings.
Apparently, this fire was the third most devastating ever reported in California, when taking into account the number of houses, stores, sheds and other structures that were wrecked.
It was also the 5th most damaging when it came to insurance losses, which have been estimated for now at approximately $700 million.
The second fire that the California Department of Insurance analyzed was the Butte Fire, which broke out on September 9 in Jackson, Amador County, eventually spreading across Calaveras county as well.
That wildfire, which burned around 70,868 acres of land, caused the death of two residents from Mountain Ranch who had ignored evacuation orders. It also ruined 475 homes, 343 outbuildings (sheds, barns, garages etc.), as well as 45 other structures.
As officials determined, the blaze was the 7th most ravenous, based on the number of buildings that were combusted or shattered. In addition, the Butte Fire also resulted in financial losses from insurance claims amounting to $300 million.
All in all, the two Northern California wildfires from September 2015 triggered insurance losses surpassing $1 billion, as explained by Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones.
The staggering figure didn’t actually come as a shock to Jim Comstock, Lake County’s First District supervisor. As he explained, the Valley Fire affected exactly the areas which had the highest concentrations of buildings and other structures, so he was expecting that the material damages would be substantial.
The sum is in fact lower than the one predicted by Aon Benfield, a company providing reinsurance brokerage and catastrophe management solutions.
The experts had believed that the two wildfires would result in insurance losses of around $1.2 billion, with the Valley Fire having been estimated to have caused insured damages of approximately $975 million.
Even so, it’s worth mentioning that the newly issued report doesn’t cover the damage to structures that weren’t insured at the time when the wildfires struck. It also doesn’t take into account disruptions related to utilities and public roads.
As Aon analysts explain, these financial losses are probably in the $2 billion ballpark, with devastation triggered by Lake County wildfire being to blame for the most substantial part of this sum ($1.5 billion).
Meanwhile, local authorities still haven’t discovered the source of ignition behind the Butte and Valley wildfires, as the investigation conducted by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection is still under way.
One theory issued by Pacific Gas & Electric officials is that the Butte Fire probably broke out when one of the company’s power lines touched a swaying tree; the combustion was further aided by the unprecedented drought, coupled with unusually high temperatures and strong winds.
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