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Insurance claims from November’s deadly California fires top $12 billion

Commentary: With climate change, who should prevent California wildfires?
The Camp fire rages through the town of Paradise, Calif., in Butte County on Nov. 8, 2018.
(Neal Waters / TNS)

Insurance claims have topped $12 billion for the November wildfires in California, making them the most expensive in state history.

The figure released Wednesday by Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara covers the Camp fire that destroyed the Northern California town of Paradise as well as the Woolsey and Hill blazes in Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

Most of the damage relates to the Camp fire, which killed 85 people and destroyed nearly 19,000 structures.

“While last year’s tragic wildfires turned thousands of people’s lives upside down, insurance is helping to rebuild and recover,” Lara said in a news release during Wildfire Preparedness Week.

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California experienced some of its deadliest and most destructive wildfires in its history in 2017 and 2018. A series of sweeping fires in late 2017 had been the most expensive, with claims topping $11.8 billion. Together with the July 2018 fires in Northern California, last year’s overall insured losses exceeded $13 billion.

The increasing destruction is making it harder and more costly for people to obtain homeowners insurance.

The California Department of Insurance has started collecting data on policy non-renewals to better assess patterns and locations where coverage is being dropped, Lara said earlier this year.

“Wildfire has long been part of California’s landscape, and insurers understand that California faces major wildfire risk,” said Nicole Mahrt-Ganley of the American Property Casualty Insurance Assn., which represents about 60% of the nation’s property casualty insurance market.

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“Insurers continue to be committed to doing business in California,” she said in a statement noting that California’s market is one of the nation’s largest.

When insurers decline to renew policies, state law requires them to notify customers about other options. The state has a pooled insurance plan of last resort known as the FAIR Plan.

California lawmakers are grappling this year with ways to address the cost and destruction of wildfires.

Pacific Gas & Electric Corp., the state’s largest utility, filed for bankruptcy in January, saying it could not afford potentially tens of billions of dollars in liability costs related to fires.

State law makes utilities financially liable for damages from wildfires caused by their equipment, even if they aren’t found to be negligent.


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