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The Growing Economic Cost of Wildfires

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This article uses Weather Source daily and hourly data, available on the S&P Global Marketplace, to examine the climate conditions that resulted in the 2018 California wildfires.

Camp Fire and Woolsey Fire, led to the most destructive fire season in California history, resulting in $8.47 billion and $2.93 billion in losses, respectively.

Using S&P Global Trucost Physical Risk asset data, we identify commercial assets in wildfire-prone areas, as well as utility companies that may have higher wildfire risk exposure than others.

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Wildfires in the wilderness are part of the ecological cycle.  Wildfires in ‘not-so-wild’ places are not, however, and are called Wildland/Urban Interface (WUI) fires. These have been increasing in both frequency and intensity. For example, 2018 was the most destructive and costly fire season in California history. As shown in Table 1, the state’s top three wildfires that year exceeded $10 billion U.S. in financial losses.[1]

Table 1: Fires in California in 2018

Total Structures Lost (#)

Residential Structures Lost (#)

Commercial Structures Lost (#)

Total Loss ($mil U.S.)

Residential ($mil)

Commercial ($mil)

Camp Fire

1,820

1,077

743

$8,400

$7,400

$1,000

Woolsey Fire

1,500

670

830

$2,930

$2,660

$236

Carr Fire

1,079

1,079

22

$890

$850

$30

Source: National Fire Protection Organization, NFPA.org.

In order to help mitigate fire risks and stabilize utilities financially, in 2019 California created a wildfire fund by enacting Assembly Bill 1054. This fund not only facilitates the payment of wildfire-related liabilities, it also requires participants, such as utilities, to: a) earn safety certifications, b) tie executive compensation to safety performance and c) implement wildfire mitigation plans.

Camp Fire: The Worst Fire in California History

Unfortunately, the town of Paradise was burned to the ground as a result of Camp Fire in 2018. This fire was first reported at 6:30 am on November 8th near Poe Dam, a dam on North Fork Feather River in Plumas National Forest near Paradise.  Due to an ongoing drought in the area, coupled with windy conditions, the fire quickly swept through the town of Paradise, making it the costliest wildfire in U.S. history.  Figure 1 below presents a map of the fire-affected area (shaded area), commercial asset locations listed by Trucost (yellow dots), transmission nodes identified by Trucost (purple), and weather observation locations presented in Weather Source (blue dots).

Figure 1: Fire-Affected Area

Source: Trucost Physical Risk data, Weather Source data, and nfpa.org data. For illustrative purposes only.



[1] “Wildfire insurance losses from November 2018 blazes top $12 billion”, California Department of Insurance, www.insurance.ca.gov/0400-news/0100-press-releases/2019/release041-19.cfm.

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