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Drought projections put insurers on wildfire alert

By Fred Bales, CFPS, CFI March 17, 2016

Drought projections show increased risk of wildfires

New government forecasts project some regions of the United States to become drier and experience wider swings in precipitation, with ominous implications for wildland fire risk.

A new report from the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), Effects of Drought on Forests and Rangelands in the United States: A Comprehensive Science Synthesis, assesses the effects of drought on forests and rangelands in the United States. This baseline of available data helps land managers and others to assess the effectiveness of nationwide efforts to improve drought resilience and adaptation practices. Other major findings from the report include:

  • Even if current drought patterns hold steady, warmer temperatures will amplify their effects.
  • Drought and warmer temperatures may make larger wildfires more likely, especially in the western United States.

“Since 2000, fire seasons have grown longer and the frequency, size, and severity of wildland fires have increased,” said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. “Among the many benefits of having this solid baseline data is the improved ability to identify where restoration work can help forests adapt and prosper while minimizing the threat and impact of future wildfires.”

The report addresses various drought-related issues, such as the resulting frequency and severity of fires, and it compares and explains drought indexes used in the United States and how they relate to fire concerns. It also discusses how worsening drought affects forest dynamics, structure, diversity, and management; rangeland drought; and drought’s economic and societal effects. The full report is available on the USFS website.

Property insurers operating in Montana, Idaho, Colorado, and California should heed the USFS recommendations. The 2015 Verisk Wildfire Risk Analysis pinpointed these four states as having the largest percentage of households exposed to high or extreme wildfire risk. Just in California, more than 2 million properties met this threshold.

The USFS report was one of many news and technical reports available to Verisk Insurance Solutions’ Engineering and Safety Service (E&S™) subscribers. Every month we provide a range of risk control information on topics that matter to our loss control audience. Our experts supply reports and technical services to subscribers on fire protection, workers’ compensation, industrial hygiene, commercial vehicle, product liability, general liability, and other topics. Many E&S reports can help to educate policyholders on sound risk control. For more information about E&S, click here or download our brochure.