Swiss Re Insurance-Linked Fund Management

PCS - Emerging Risks, New Opportunities

California wildfires double in size, threat & damage to property considerable


Wildfires in California have roughly doubled in size in the last 24 hours, with significant spread and new property damage, while fire officials warn that further expansion of the area burned is to be expected over another dangerous day or more ahead.


Image: Noah Berger / AP.

As we reported yesterday, tens of thousands of structures and properties are deemed under threat from the rapidly growing and largely lightning sparked wildfires across California.

The figure is now well over 70,00 structures threatened by wildfires, which is a mix of residential, commercial and farm outbuildings.

That situation hasn’t changed and at the same time the toll to property and homes in the wildfire affected areas is also growing, with the number destroyed leaping in the last day and the number at-risk growing, while the wildfires are forecast to spread further with some towns in their paths over the next day as well.

The wildfires were started by more than 20,000 lightning strikes that hit the state of California after an unusual series of severe thunderstorms struck the state, at a time of a heatwave and when fire fuel is particularly dry in remote regions.

The result was the ignition of numerous smaller fires, some of which have merged into larger wildfire complexes and these are now providing some of the most serious threats to lives and properties.

The wildfires spread rapidly yesterday, with the largest named the LNU Lightning Complex collection of fires (started by lightning strikes) around Napa and Sonoma Valley, growing to around 215,000 acres in size (up from 124,000 acres less than a day ago) and with now over 30,500 structures threatened (up from 25,000 structures yesterday), according to the California fire authorities.

The LNU Lightning Complex wildfire has now destroyed 480 structures (up from 105), with another 125 reported damaged (up from 70) and this fire complex remains zero percent contained at this time.

The Hennessey wildfire, which is part of this LNU Lightning Complex blaze, is threatening the city of Vacaville and been responsible for a lot of the increase in property damage, being one of the most destructive with homes and businesses (including wineries) burned in the area.

Over 60,000 residents have been forced to leave their homes across the state of California because of the intense wildfire activity.

Another complex of blazes started by lightning strikes, the SCU Lightning Complex wildfires, which is burning across locations in Santa Clara, Alameda, Contra Costa, San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties has now expanded to over 157,000 acres (up from 102,000) and the SCU fires threaten 20,000 structures now (up from 3,798) and remains only 5% contained. The SCU fires have yet to claim any properties, but the threat is growing.

Meanwhile, the CZU Lightning Complex wildfires, burning across San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties, has grown to over 48,000 acres (up from 25,000), with now almost 21,000 structures considered under threat (up from yesterday’s 8,593 structures). 50 have so far been destroyed and this blaze remains zero percent contained as well.

Among other blazes, of which there are numerous, the CZU August Lightning Complex has destroyed around 50 structures in locations around San Mateo and Santa Cruz Counties, the River Fire in Monterery has destroyed another 10, the Lake Fire near Lake Hughes has now destroyed 21 structures, while other fires have destroyed a handful each.

The toll for insurance and reinsurance interests is growing, but it is the potential to spread further into towns and cities that is the real concern, financially and as far as potential loss of life goes.

Authorities say the hot and dry weather will persist into the weekend, with the weather considered conducive to further expansion of the fires, in particular the complex fires which are not contained due to their ferocity.

An insurance industry loss is growing at this time, particularly from the growing property damage from the LNU Lightning Complex wildfires.

At this stage the reinsurance hit is unlikely to be significant, but with these fires expected to continue burning out of control there is the potential for the damage to escalate and the cost to the reinsurance end of the industry to increase.

It’s also worth noting, that this is still considered the early stages of the California wildfire season, with much longer to go for the situation to worsen.

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.

Artemis Live - ILS and reinsurance video interviews and podcastView all of our Artemis Live video interviews and subscribe to our podcast.

All of our Artemis Live insurance-linked securities (ILS), catastrophe bonds and reinsurance video content and video interviews can be accessed online.

Our Artemis Live podcast can be subscribed to using the typical podcast services providers, including Apple, Google, Spotify and more.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Artemis Newsletters and Email Alerts

Receive a regular weekly email newsletter update containing all the top news stories, deals and event information

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Receive alert notifications by email for every article from Artemis as it gets published.