This year has been a nasty one as far as US wildfires are concerned.
That’s true on a national scale as well as on a local scale for people who live in states like California.
From coast to coast, for example, over 55,000 different fires have popped up since the start of 2015, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. And those blazes have burned almost 10 million acres of land as of Nov. 13.
That second statistic is equal to three times the damage done in 2014. It’s also the most destruction caused by a year’s worth of wildfires since at least 2006.
The numbers coming out of the Golden State so far in 2015 are just as eye-opening. A case in point: the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection reports that more than 8,100 fires impacted the state through the first 11 months of the year. Along the way, they scorched nearly 825,000 acres of land.
Rough Fire Details
A number of the state’s worst fires started during a lightning storm that swept through northern California on July 30 and 31. One of them earned the name “Rough Fire” and when all was said and done it was the largest of the 2015 wildfires to affect the state. (It’s also now considered California’s 13th biggest fire since 1932.)
Here are a few reasons it’s so noteworthy:
- It burned more than 150,000 acres of land in and around the Sierra and Sequoia National Forests
- Just over 3,700 firefighters fought the blaze
- Also lending a helping hand at one point or another: 345 fire engines, 45 bulldozers, and 19 helicopters
- Reports suggest it destroyed only four structures or buildings
- It caused no deaths, although it injured at least 12 firefighters
The Rough Fire peaked on Sept. 15 and declared “100% contained” in early November.
Butte and Valley Fire Details
Two of California’s other major wildfires started in September. One of them, the Butte Fire, began on Sept. 9 and burned more than 70,000 acres in the state’s Amador and Calaveras counties before being fully contained a couple of weeks later.
The second, called the Valley Fire, burned more than 76,000 acres in California’s Lake, Napa, and Sonoma counties during the same period.
Arguably, these blazes caused more destruction than the Rough Fire thanks to the following:
- The Butte Fire destroyed at least 475 homes and residences, and almost as many outbuildings and other structures
- Sadly, it killed two people in Calaveras County
- The Valley Fire, meanwhile, resulted in four deaths
- It also displaced tens of thousands in surrounding communities
- And it destroyed nearly 2,000 buildings, including 1,280 homes, 27 multi-family units, and 66 commercial properties
That last statistic was enough to make the Valley Fire the state’s third-worst fire ever in terms of damaged or destroyed structures.
(The good news for Californians affected by any of the wildfires that have scorched the state in 2015: standard homeowners insurance covers fire damage.
$2 Billion of Destruction
What kind of price tag can we attach to all of this devastation? A report published in October by Aon Benfield put the number at $2 billion.
The Chicago-based reinsurance company attributed three-fourths of that amount, or $1.5 billion, to damage caused by the Valley Fire. Only $925 million of that is thought to be covered by insurance. (If that figure proves to be accurate, the Valley Fire would be one of the five worst wildfire-related insurance disasters in California history.)
Most of the rest of Aon’s estimate -- $450 million -- is related to the Butte Fire, with about half of it assumed to be uninsured.
Car Insurance and California’s Wildfires
The uninsured portion of Aon’s damage estimate is important for both drivers and homeowners in California and elsewhere to keep in mind. Why? Repairing or replacing vehicles, homes, and other possessions in a wildfire’s wake is expensive if you don’t have the right amount or type of insurance.
Car owners should be happy to hear that standard auto insurance policies cover this kind of loss. You need more than just a liability policy for that to be true, though. Specifically, you need comprehensive coverage to fully protect your vehicle – and bank account -- from a fire.
Homeowners don’t even need to buy optional coverage. Not only does standard home insurance protect your house from fire-related damage, but it also protects other structures on your property. Two examples: garages and sheds.
To learn more about what homeowners insurance does and doesn’t cover, read our “Home Insurance Basics” article. You may also want to check out our article about “Actual Cash Value vs. Replacement Cost.”