The Continued Risk Of Wildfires


The Continued Risk Of Wildfires

By: Adam Matheny

In recent years the risk to property owners of wildfire damage continues to rise with millions of claims being filed annually at an annual cost of billions of dollars. While the number of fires and their severity may vary from year to year, many of the worst on file have occurred over the past ten years. Before 2012, the only time the annual acreage damaged by wildfires exceeded 9 million was once in 1960 and again in 2010. Of course, there are several factors involved in making an area a prime candidate for wildfires including the weather and overall climate.

The 2017 Fire Season

In a report issued by the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC), the number of acres burned in the 2017 fire season was near normal as were the number of reported fires. From the 1st of January to the 31st of December 2017 a total of 71,499 fires were reported, burning 10,026,086 acres. Insurance companies paid out approximately $12.33 billion in claims. The current heat waves and droughts are doing nothing to help ease these costs.

The Increase In Fires And The Damage They Cause

Research shows that approximately 90 percent of all wildfires are started either on purpose or inadvertently by humans. At the same time, there is significant evidence to show that the severity of today’s wildfires has been increased due to changes in the climate and the variability of the weather. Among the many changes being seen are fire seasons that are starting earlier due to less snow and warmer springs.

Along with this, people seem to have a proclivity for building in areas where the ecosystem is already prone to wildfires. At some point, every state has suffered at least some damage from wildfires. But, over the past decade, states from the Midwest to the West Coast have been suffering the brunt of the damage.

Dealing With The Problem

A large number of federal, state, and local authorities and leaders have gathered together to create the Community Wildlife Protection Plan or CWWP. The plan is designed to assess the fire risk for a particular community and develop methods of reducing or at the very least mitigating the risks. The most common way of accomplishing this is land management. This form of land management involves the creation and maintenance of easily defensible zones around both residences and businesses alike.

Protecting any property from the ravages of wildfires does require a certain amount of preventative action on behalf of the owner long before fire season starts. In most cases, property owner’s insurance will cover losses as a result of wildfires under ISO Homeowners 3 – Special Form (HO-3). Note that there are several different types of coverage that can be added to the base policy.

Where Things Stand

According to reports, the Catastrophe Insurance Working Group of the Property & Casualty Insurance Committee and the NAIC are working together to develop new ways to take on the challenges of wildfires and other natural catastrophes. Along with this, members of the NAIC are working hard to educate Members of Congress and provide them with vital technical feedback on the various proposals submitted. The best way to effectively manage a wildfire situation is a subject of regular discussions between Congress and the NAIC.

In the U.S. the risk of wildfires is expected to continue to increase, all of those involved in the risk of damage by wildfire, from the homeowner to the highest level of federal government, should be working together to create solutions and overcome any obstacles blocking the implementation of quality risk management processes.  For consumers, the NAIC offers a link to Insure U that can help them before, during, and after a wildfire. Those who would like more information explicitly based on where they live should contact their state insurance commission.

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