Massive wildfires continued to burn in Oregon and California, feeding on fuels dried by prolonged drought and weather conditions that promoted their spread: Low humidity, warm temperatures, and gusty winds.
The widespread activity across the West has already made for a severe wildfire season.
The Bootleg Fire in Oregon, believed to be caused by lightning, burned into a fourth week, surpassing 400,000 acres in Lake and Klamath counties, according to the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC).1 The blaze had destroyed more than 400 structures as of August 2, CNN reported.2 At least 2,000 people were under evacuation orders, according to the New York Times,3 and others were on alert to be ready to leave on short notice, according to InciWeb, an interagency disaster information system. This represents potential additional claims for many insurers as evacuees incur costs for temporary lodging and businesses interruption claims mount.
California’s most severe incident has been the Dixie fire, which was approaching 250,000 acres in Butte and Plumas counties as of July 30, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE). Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) announced that one of its power lines is under investigation as the cause.5 CBS News reported the fire had forced nearly 8,400 evacuations, with some 10,000 homes threatened.6 The fire had merged with the smaller Fly Fire, CAL FIRE reported. As of August 4th, 2021, the Dixie was designated a catastrophe event by PCS.
Verisk analysis of the Bootleg and Dixie fires
FireLine®, Verisk’s wildfire risk management tool, is guiding the analysis of risk factors, including direct exposure to fire damage as well as exposure to smoke and ash damage, seen within and around the perimeter of the Bootleg Fire. All areas were at risk, with 83.5 percent of the area affected by the Bootleg Fire in high or extreme risk categories, with medium to heavy fuels throughout the area. Klamath County was identified as being among the top five counties in the state by number of housing units in extreme wildfire risk categories (6,300), according to the 2020 FireLine State Risk Report for Oregon. In addition, Verisk’s Property Claim Services® has designated the Bootleg Fire as a catastrophe event.
The AIR Wildfire Model for the United States, Verisk’s wildfire catastrophe risk modeling solution, simulates wildfire ignitions, spread, property damage, and associated insured loss during 10,000, 50,000, and 100,000 stochastic years, involving tens of millions of potential wildfires in the 13 western states. According to that model, insured-loss-causing wildfire events are expected to occur in Klamath County about every 5 years.
The area affected by the Dixie Fire in Butte and Plumas county are almost all at risk, with 96 percent of the area in high or extreme risk FireLine categories, with medium to heavy fuels across more than 86 percent of the area. The AIR Wildfire Model estimates insured-loss-causing wildfire events will likely occur about every year in Butte County and at least once every four years in Plumas County.
A wider pattern
The widespread activity across the West has already made for a severe wildfire season: More than 2.6 million acres burned in over 37,000 fires as of July 30th, compared with 1.85 million acres and more than 29,000 acres at the same point in 2020—which was also a record-breaking season, according to the NIFC. California alone had seen an estimated 484,519 acres burned in 5,671 incidents as of July 30, with 323 structures damaged or destroyed, according to CAL FIRE.
Opportunities for mitigation
There are opportunities to lessen the impact of these events through mitigation at both the community and property levels by promoting preparedness, maintaining defensible space around structures, and hardening homes and businesses against fire.
Verisk works with the insurance industry and organizations dedicated to wildfire prevention and preparedness to further understanding of this peril.
Download our latest FireLine Risk Reports to gain greater insight into wildfire risk.