California Wildfires Making State’s Insurance Crisis Even Worse

The Camp Fire in Northern California and the Woolsey Fire in suburban Los Angeles continue to burn, with the death toll reaching 48 as weather remains dry throughout the state. More than 6,700 structures have been lost in the raging fires in California. The total cost to the state, insurers and homeowners is expected to top $19 billion.

Source: Fortune | Published on November 14, 2018

Fire insurance was already an issue in California before the most recent blazes started. Premiums are on the rise for homeowners in areas at risk of wildfires, and some insurers are refusing to renew policies for people in danger areas. Insurers in California lost nearly $16 billion last year, four times their losses in 2016, reports insurance credit rating agency A.M. Best.

Annual insurance payouts (in 2018 dollars) surpassed the $1 billion threshold just nine times since 1990, but 2018 was going to be the such fourth consecutive year even before this month’s wildfires in California, Intelligent Insurer reports. The 2017 wildfires triggered nearly $16 billion in insurance payments, almost entirely from the fall blazes in California.

Almost half of California has an elevated risk for fires, with 15.5 million people living in critical areas including Los Angeles and San Jose, forecasters at the U.S. Climate Prediction Center told Bloomberg.

Cal Fire authorities are investigating electrical equipment as one of several possible causes of the Camp Fire northeast of San Francisco, a spokesman told Bloomberg. PG&E Corp., which provides power to 16 million people, is still struggling with losses from California wildfires last year that could total $17.3 billion in liabilities.

As of Sunday night, the Camp Fire spanned 110,000 acres and is only 25% contained, according to Cal Fire. The Woolsey Fire covers 85,500 acres and is 15% contained. The Hill Fire, which covers about 4,500 acres, is now 75% contained. But a “red flag warning,” meaning conditions are right for fires to break out in the next 24 hours, has been expanded for a massive swath of California, with low humidity and high winds expected Monday across the state.

President Donald Trump sent a series of tweets blaming the fires on forest mismanagement over the weekend, threatening to cut federal funding, which enraged firefighting organizations and politicians. California Gov. Jerry Brown has formally asked Trump to release federal disaster funding.

“This is not the new normal, this is the new abnormal,” Brown told reporters on Sunday. “It will continue for the next 10 to 15 to 20 years. The best science is telling us that this warmth and dryness will intensify. This is a real challenge here threatening our whole way of life.”