Although 2015 was a quiet year overall for US natural disasters, that doesn’t mean nothing happened on that front.
For example, flooding affected a number of states last year due to record-setting, El Niño-related rainfall. Even then, though, the amount of damage floods caused in 2015 wasn’t all that different from the damage they caused the year before.
Other types of natural disasters also weren’t as much of a factor as they could’ve been last year. Fewer hurricanes spun up than forecasted. Sinkholes proved to be far less of a concern than in 2014 too. Also, 2015’s tornado and earthquake activity was only slightly above average.
Wildfires were the one adverse event that bucked the “quiet year” trend. In fact, according to National Interagency Fire Center data, 2015 was America’s worst year ever in terms of wildfire destruction.
2015 Wildfire Statistics
Here are some stats that show just how much fires impacted the US last year:
- These blazes destroyed 10,125,149 acres of land
- The previous “record” in this area: 2006’s 9,873,745 scorched acres
- 2015’s total topped the 15-year average by more than 3.5 million acres
- Just under 70,000 fires caused all of this damage
On a more positive note: those 68,151 flare-ups suggest the number of annual fires is decreasing (even as the acres burned increases).
Proof that Fewer Fires Doesn’t Mean Less Damage
Unfortunately, even a small number of fires can burn a lot of land.
People who live out West – in California and Washington, especially – learned that the hard way in 2015 when the following five blazes destroyed hundreds of thousands of acres on their own:
- Northern California’s Rough Fire started in late July and burned more than 150,000 acres of land
- That state’s Butte and Valley Fires started in September and combined caused nearly as much destruction as the Rough Fire
- Specifically, the Butte Fire destroyed 70,000 acres of land and 475 homes, while the latter destroyed 76,000 acres and more than 1,300 homes
- In terms of insured losses, officials estimate the Valley Fire’s tally hit $925 million while the Butts Fire’s topped $225 million
- As for Washington’s wildfires, the Okanogan Complex Fire burned 130,000 acres in August, while the Chelan Complex Fire burned about 100,000 during the same month
Do you live in a state that regularly experiences wildfires? Review your insurance policies to make sure they’ll protect you if a wildfire damages or destroys your car or home.
Six Reasons for These Fires
What caused these record-breaking blazes? “A lot of it had to do with the drought that’s occurring in the Western part of the country,” Tom Jeffery, a senior hazard scientist at CoreLogic, told Insurance Journal in late January.
The Western US’ on-going drought is only partly to blame for 2015’s wildfire activity, though. Also responsible, according to CoreLogic’s latest Natural Hazard Risk Report:
- High temperatures
- Low humidity
- Excessive winds
- Less winter snowpack
The report also points out that “several times throughout the year, multiple fires occurred simultaneously.” This resulted in “already limited firefighting resources being further strained to contain the damage.”
The Wildfire Outlook for 2016
Still, the drought that’s hounded the West for the last four years was the chief culprit behind 2015’s spate of wildfires.
Though Jeffery told Insurance Journal the region is “headed in the right direction” thanks in part to El Niño, all of the rain and snow it brings the region could backfire down the road.
“When we have more moisture in the ground, it just means all the vegetation … that has been starving for water in other years is starting to grow,” he said. And that additional vegetation “means more fuel for the fires.”
The short-term outlook isn’t any better. Yes, wildfires are less likely in 2016 to target areas that burned last year, according to CoreLogic’s report, but “there are many other areas in which the risk … is exceptionally high.”
Even worse, the Irvine, California-based firm predicts that 2016 see more fires. “And there is little doubt that some of [them] will cause significant property loss, especially in … California, Washington, Oregon, and Texas.”
Home and Car Insurance Considerations
If you live in a state that fire could impact in the future, now’s the time to see if your insurance policies will protect your property and your possessions.
Do you own a home? If so, you probably already know your homeowners insurance covers damage caused by fire. (Read our “Home Insurance Basics” article to learn more about what standard home policies will and won’t cover.)
You may not realize, though, that it doesn’t cover flood damage to your home. That’s important to note because areas hit by wildfires also have a higher risk of flooding.
As for any vehicles you own, keep in mind that liability auto insurance won’t come to your rescue if fire destroys it. Comprehensive coverage is what you need in that situation.