Homeowners & Wildfires

of iii.org

Fire plays an important role in the life of a forest, clearing away dead wood and undergrowth to make way for younger trees but the risk wildfires pose to people and property is growing as more people move into forested areas once largely uninhabited. These areas, known as the Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI), contain about 44 million houses in the lower 48 states, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

Rising temperatures are also believed to contribute to large, destructive blazes. Warmer weather contributes to wildfire conditions in several ways: dryer and more combustible vegetation, more frequent lightning strikes, an extended fire season; and more intense winds.

Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences researchers have concluded that by 2050 the number of wildfires in the West could rise by 50 percent, and across the U.S. the number would double.

Insured wildfire losses

Damage caused by fire and smoke are covered under standard homeowners, renters and business owners insurance policies and under the comprehensive portion of an auto insurance policy. Water or other damage caused by fire fighters to extinguish the fire is also covered under these policies. In California, the California FAIR Plan covers residential and commercial properties located in brush and wildfire areas. Properties in those areas are subject to higher rates due to increased risk of fire.

Causes of wildfires

As many as 90 percent of wildland fires in the United States are caused by humans, according to the U.S. Department of Interior. Some human-caused fires result from campfires left unattended, the burning of debris, negligently discarded cigarettes and intentional acts of arson. The remaining 10 percent are started by lightning or lava.

Wildfire prevention and mitigation

Researchers are discovering that embers blown by the wind during wildfires cause most of the fires that burn homes. Also, homes that are less than 15 feet apart are more likely to burn in clusters. In such cases, fire is often spread by combustible fences and decks connected to houses, a study by the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) found.

Among the preventive features recommended in the IBHS study were noncombustible siding, decking and roofing materials; covered vents; and fences not connected directly to the house. In addition, combustible structures in the yard such as playground equipment should be at least 30 feet away from the house and vegetation 100 feet away.

Properties at risk for wildfires

According to Verisk?s 2017 Wildfire Risk Analysis 4.5 million U.S. homes were identified at high or extreme risk of wildfire, with more than 2 million in California alone.

Charts and graphs

Total Potential Exposure To Wildfire Damage By Risk Category, 2014 (1)

($ billions)

StateLowModerateHighVery high
Arizona$9.64$0.98$1.76$1.57
California75.8461.9289.3516.10
Colorado18.6311.5314.5813.91
Idaho9.205.563.712.62
Montana14.634.432.292.40
Nevada4.245.194.570.16
New Mexico11.654.627.072.46
Oklahoma31.9216.770.030.00
Oregon8.249.4911.913.20
Texas59.53147.6848.266.33
Utah2.853.930.770.01
Washington84.0718.082.880.51
Wyoming3.682.620.490.33
Total, states shown$331.27$292.81$187.66$49.61

(1) Reconstruction value of single-family residences at risk.

Source: CoreLogic, Inc., a data and analytics company.

View Archived Tables

Top 10 Most Wildfire Prone States, 2017

By householdsBy percent
of households
RankStateHouseholds at high
or extreme risk
from wildfires (1)
RankStatePercent of households
at high or extreme
risk from wildfires
1California2,044,8001Montana28%
2Texas715,3002Idaho26
3Colorado366,2003Colorado17
4Arizona234,6004California15
5Idaho171,2005New Mexico14
6Washington154,9006Utah14
7Oklahoma152,9007Wyoming14
8Oregon148,8008Oklahoma9
9Utah133,1009Oregon9
10Montana133,00010Arizona8

(1) Number of households is based on data from the 2010 U.S. Census.

Source: Verisk Insurance Solutions ? Underwriting and Verisk Climate units of Verisk Analytics®.

View Archived Tables

Wildfire Losses In The United States, 2007-2016 (1)

(2016 $ millions)

(1) Adjusted for inflation by Munich Re based on the Consumer Price Index.

Source: © 2017 Munich Re, Geo Risks Research, NatCatSERVICE.

View Archived Graphs

Natural Catastrophe Losses In The United States, 2015 (1)

($ millions)

EventNumber of relevant events (2)FatalitiesOverall lossesInsured losses (3)
Severe thunderstorm37114$13,400$9,600
Winter storms and cold waves11984,7003,500
Flood, flash flood12863,8001,100
Earthquake and geophysical00minorminor
Tropical cyclone2510060
Wildfire, heat waves and drought19144,4001,900
Other47minorminor
Total85324$26,400$16,100

(1) As of February 2016.
(2) Events that have caused at least one fatality or losses of $3 million or more.
(3) Based on property losses including, if applicable, agricultural, offshore, marine, aviation and National Flood Insurance Program losses and may differ from data shown elsewhere.

Source: Munich Re NatCatSERVICE; Property Claim Services®, a unit of ISO®, a Verisk Analytics® business. © 2016 Munich Re, NatCatSERVICE.

View Archived Tables

Top 10 States For Wildfires Ranked By Number Of Fires And By Number Of Acres Burned, 2016

RankStateNumber of firesRankStateNumber of acres burned
1Texas9,3001Oklahoma767,780
2California7,3492California560,815
3Georgia5,0863Alaska496,467
4North Carolina4,0074Idaho361,649
5Alabama3,9235Texas356,680
6Florida3,0676Kansas349,829
7Missouri2,6107Arizona308,245
8Arizona2,2888Washington293,717
9Tennessee2,1659Nevada265,156
10Montana2,02610Oregon219,509

Source: National Interagency Fire Center.

View Archived Tables

Top 10 Costliest Wildland Fires In The United States (1)

($ millions)

Estimated insured loss
RankDateName, LocationDollars when occurredIn 2016 dollars (2)
1Oct. 20-21, 1991Oakland Hills Fire, CA$1,700$2,746
2Oct. 21-24, 2007Witch Fire, CA1,3001,488
3Oct. 25-Nov. 4, 2003Cedar Fire, CA1,0601,362
4Oct. 25-Nov. 3, 2003Old Fire, CA9751,253
5Nov. 28-30, 2016Great Smoky Mountains Fire, TN938938
6Sep. 12-14, 2015Valley Fire, CA921933
7Nov. 2-3, 1993Topanga Fire, CA375578
8Sep. 4-9, 2011Bastrop County Complex Fire, TX530572
9Oct. 27-28, 1993Laguna Canyon Fire, CA350540
10Jun. 24-28, 2012Waldo Canyon Fire, CO450477

(1) Property coverage only for catastrophic fires. Effective January 1, 1997, ISO’s Property Claim Services (PCS) unit defines catastrophes as events that cause more than $25 million in insured property damage and that affect a significant number of insureds and insurers. From 1982 to 1996, PCS used a $5 million threshold in defining catastrophes. Before 1982, PCS used a $1 million threshold. Does not include wildfires in 2017.
(2) Adjusted for inflation through 2016 by ISO using the GDP implicit price deflator.

Source: The Property Claim Services® (PCS®) unit of ISO®, a Verisk Analytics® company