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California wildfires continue, firefighters make progress in better weather


Wildfires across California continued their destruction of property in the last day, with now upwards of 1,779 buildings destroyed during the season so far, according to some data sources, but firefighters made some progress in further containing some of the key blazes.


Image: Noah Berger / AP.

When we reported on the main California wildfires yesterday, the figure for buildings burned in the season stood just above 1,600, so while the fires are better contained, the impacts to property continued and therefore the expected eventual insurance and perhaps reinsurance market loss.

The destruction of property continued yesterday and while for the insurance, reinsurance and insurance-linked securities (ILS) market, damages this year are not yet at levels to particularly trouble the sector, they are increasing across the season as a whole.

More than 3,000+ structures are thought to have been destroyed so far, some 1,779 of which are said to be buildings of some insurable value. Some 1,400 structures have been destroyed since August 15th.

Fire weather conditions have proved to be better than expected in the last two days, allowing firefighters to make some progress on containing each blaze.

The most damaging blaze, the LNU Lightning Complex wildfire, remains the third largest burn in California records after swapping second with the SCU fires, has burned 356,326 acres and is now 27% contained

The LNU Lightning Complex wildfires, which is made up of fires including the Hennessey Fire, Aetna Fire, Walbridge Fire, Meyers Fire and Round Fire, has become better controlled in the last two days with firefighters making more progress. This wildfire collection is now the 13th most destructive in California’s records.

The LNU Lightning Complex fires, which are burning in Napa, Sonoma, Solano, Lake & Yolo Counties, has now destroyed at least 978 structures, up 70 on yesterday, (residential, commercial and farm buildings), with another 256 damaged and still 30,500 structures under threat.

The SCU Lightning Complex wildfires, is the second largest in California history, but is now under greater control and has burned over 365,000 acres.

The SCU Complex fire is made up of numerous smaller lightning ignited blazes across Santa Clara, Alameda, Contra Costa, San Joaquin and Stanislaus Counties. It is now 20% contained, an increase of 5% in the last day.

Still, only 18 structures have been destroyed so far (up 6 on the prior day), but another 13 minor structures have been added to the list as destroyed and another 6 are damaged. More than 20,000 structures remain under threat of this SCU set of fires.

The CZU Lightning Complex wildfires, burning across San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties, is the fire that has destroyed the most property in the last 24 hours.

The CZU Lightning Complex wildfires have now burned more than 78,800 acres and are now 19% contained, an improvement on yesterday.

The CZU wildfires have now destroyed 443 structures, over 270 of which are residential properties, with another 32 structures damaged and still over 24,000 additional structures under threat from this blaze.

Wildfires in 2020, even at this early stage of the California season, have already burned more acres than the whole of the 2019 season.

The 2020 California wildfire season has now burned more than 1.5 million acres and destroyed more than 3,000 structures, somewhere north of 1,779 of which are thought to be insurable, to-date.

As a result, the costs to insurance and reinsurance market interests are growing, with the continuing potential for the wildfires to spread further into towns and cities a real concern, financially and in terms of the potential for much greater loss of life.

Perhaps more incredible, so far this season there have been around double the long-term average in number of wildfires, with more than 6,500 fires reported by Cal Fire and the U.S. Forest Service so far. The five-year average for this point in the season is closer to 3,800 fires.

Given the still early stage of the California wildfire season, the chances of a reinsurance market hit and so the potential for some losses to fall to the ILS market, is increasing steadily as the number of properties damaged and destroyed increases.

In recent severe wildfire seasons some of the most impactful fires were seen in October and November, meaning there is much longer to go for the overall impacts to worsen as the season progresses.

Recall, in recent severe and costly wildfire seasons for the reinsurance industry, some of the most impactful and expensive blazes have been much later in the year.

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