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California wildfires threaten tens of thousands of structures


The California wildfire season threat has ramped up considerably in the last few days, as severe thunderstorms and lightning ignited numerous new wildfires following a spell of hot and dry weather, that now sees tens of thousands of structures and property including high-value homes at-risk.

wildfire-image-firefightersAfter the last two severe wildfire seasons in California and the significant insurance and reinsurance market losses they drove, the recent outbreak of fires are perhaps the most serious since.

The California wildfire season typically peaks later in the year as well, meaning there is potentially a lot more of the severe wildfire weather and threat to come.

Among the wildfires currently threatening properties and structures, the LNU Lightning Complex collection of fires (started by lightning strikes) around Napa and Sonoma Valley has now burned some 124,000 acres and is threatening 25,000 structures, according to the California fire authorities.

The LNU Lightning Complex wildfire has already destroyed 105 structures, with another 70 reported damaged and is zero percent contained right now.

The CZU Lighning Complex wildfires in San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties has spread to over 25,000 acres, with 8,593 structures considered threatened and 20 so far destroyed. This fire complex, also started by lightning, is zero percent contained as well.

The SCU Lightning Complex wildfires, again started by the storms of the last couple of days, is burning across locations in Santa Clara, Alameda, Contra Costa, San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties.

102,000 acres in size, the burn area of the SCU fires threatens 3,798 properties and is just 5% contained.

The Lake Fire near Lake Hughes has burned 26,213 acres and threatens 1,329 structures, with 12 destroyed and 6 damaged.

While the River Fire in Monterey County is now over 15,000 acres in size and threatens 2,750 structures, while being only 7% contained.

That’s not an exhaustive list of current wildfires in California either. There are numerous other burns that could affect property and lives, but these are perhaps the ones with the greatest potential to impact the insurance and reinsurance market at this time.

In total there are about two dozen wildfires considered significant, as well as numerous smaller fires as well.

The heat wave conditions and humid air is set to persist, weather forecasts suggest, creating the dangerous mix of tinder dry wildfire fuel conditions and severe thunderstorms with lightning strikes.

Many people in Vacaville, a city of around 100,000 people located between San Francisco and Sacramento, are under evacuation orders and this is one area considered at particular threat from the LNU Lightning Complex fire.

Reinsurance broker Guy Carpenter reported that there are now 68 large wildfire incidents burning across the United States, a significant increase from just 12 a week earlier.

The reinsurance broker noted that  on the three major lightning complex wildfires, “These fires are burning in areas that are very conducive to wildfire, as indicated by the reds (very high) and pinks (extreme) in the map below of the Guy Carpenter Wildfire Risk Score.”

It’s not just California either, “Additionally, large and damaging wildfires are burning in Colorado, in response to recent emerging and intensifying drought conditions, as well as much above average summer temperatures,” Guy Carpenter’s update said.

At the moment the impacts to the insurance and reinsurance market appear relatively minor, compared to the last few years. But with tens of thousands of properties in the line of wildfires and weather conditions set to continue to be conducive to burning, it’s too early to suggest the current fire situation won’t result in a loss of note.

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