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California’s Kincade wildfire spreads & threatens almost 80,000 structures


Update: Our latest on the current wildfire outbreaks can be found here. Dangerous fire weather conditions are forecast to continue over the coming days, which threatens to help the growing Kincade wildfire expand even further and has caused the evacuation of close to 180,000 residents.

california-wildfire-losses-insuranceDangerous wildfire weather conditions including particularly strong Diablo and Santa Ana winds, low levels of moisture, no prospect of rain and tinder dry ground have resulted in explosive wildfire conditions in recent days.

Updated information: As of 10am EST the Kincade fire has spread to more than 66,000 acres, with 96 structures destroyed, 40 of which are residential and 3 commercial. Another 16 structures have been damaged and still just under 80,000 are threatened by the blaze which remains only 5% contained.

Another wildfire has broken out close to Los Angeles today. The Getty fire has burned around 500 acres and destroyed a number of homes in the high-value hillside communities of Brentwood and surroundings.

The Getty wildfire is currently growing and heading west, fanned by winds, but these winds may die later into the day allowing fire fighters to gain greater control and save more threatened properties. Evacuations are in effect for an area spanning some of the most expensive property in the Los Angeles hills area. The Getty fire is reported to be threatening up to 10,000 properties at this time.

The Kincade wildfire is the largest in the state of California currently, having now burned almost 55,000 acres of land, with 94 structures now confirmed destroyed and another 17 structures confirmed damaged as of last night.

Worryingly, as the Kincade wildfire has spread downslope from the remote, mountainous area where it ignited, an increasing number of properties and structures are coming under threat, with a number of towns now potentially at-risk.

This has led to a significant increase in evacuations over the weekend, with now almost 180,000 residents told to leave their homes.

The fire authorities in California now report that close to 80,000 structures are potentially at-risk from the Kincade fire blaze, which provides an idea of just how large and dangerous this wildfire has now become.

At the latest update, the Kincade fire was just 5% contained and the authorities were warning of a Red Flag warning continuing through Monday.

After the impactful California wildfire seasons of 2017 and 2018, this 2019 fire season has begun with a number of rapidly spreading burns exacerbated by dry conditions and strong winds.

The insurance, reinsurance and insurance-linked securities (ILS) markets will be watching these fire weather developments closely, particularly those that have picked up additional property and liability premiums in the state after rates rose significantly following the high market losses from 2017 and 2018’s fires.

With weather conditions expected to remain dangerous for a few days, but then no real forecasts of rain or moisture returning for around ten days, the dry Californian countryside will remain a significant fire risk.

Authorities evacuated parts of Santa Rosa, a city of 175,000 that was impacted by wildfires two years ago, as they believe there is a risk of the Kincade fire jumping a major highway and getting into the suburbs.

Evacuations span a huge area of the California wine country region, through Sonoma county and down to the coast at Bodega Bay.

Authority Cal Fire has said it doesn’t expect to be able to fully contain the Kincade wildfire until November 7th, given the current weather forecast.

Further details on the report from utility Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) that a fault occurred on one of its transmission towers close to where officials say the Kincade Fire started, near the town of Geyserville, are not yet available. The incident is still being investigated by the utility.

PG&E is already facing numerous issues, bankruptcy and enormous claims from previous fires among them. The insurance and reinsurance industry has now paid out billions in response to wildfires that have been deemed caused by PG&E’s equipment, leading to subrogation claims and other issues.

The utility has shut off power to millions of residents of California, as an attempt to prevent any outbreaks sparked by its equipment. Power is expected to be restored as the new week begins.

Meanwhile, the Tick fire in Canyon County was restrained at under 5,000 acres and now 70% contained by firefighters in northwestern Los Angeles County, with 29 structures destroyed and another 42 damaged.

More fire outbreaks were seen over the weekend, including in Vallejo southern California. But these smaller fires have been easier to contain, although they have added to the overall damage suffered in the state with some properties burned and destroyed.

Insurance, reinsurance and ILS interests will continue to eye California wildfire activity nervously, as no matter how much rates rose by at renewals this year they are unlikely to come close to covering loss costs should a repeat of recent years wildfire seasons occur in 2019.

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