Insurance Associations: West Wildfire Season Could Be Among Worst

By | June 12, 2012

As the fire season begins in the West insurance professionals who’ve been around for a while are calling this potentially one of the worst in recent memory.

The season is shaping up to be “one of the most dangerous and active on record,” said Carole Walker, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association.

Aside from the Whitewater-Baldy Complex Fire in New Mexico’s Gila National Forest – the nation’s largest at 287,708 acres and the largest in the state’s recorded history – one of the West’s other big blazes is the High Park fire just over a dozen miles west of Fort Collins, Colo., which has grown to more than 43,000 acres, and has now destroyed at least 100 structures. At least one fatality has been declared as a result of the fire, and Gov. Susana Martinez has ordering more than National Guard troops to assist with evacuations.

“That’s our big fire that blew up here over the weekend,” said Walker, who had just come from a morning conference on Monday with fire officials working on the fire. “They have confirmed that they have at least 100 structures that have burned. We have thousands of people evacuated at this point.”

She called the High Park fire “a very active, dangerous fire.”

Unlike the Whitewater-Baldy fire, which is 37 percent contained, the High Park fire is at zero percent containment.

Walker couldn’t offer an estimate on insured losses, saying there are both homes and cabins in that area.

The dry winter, high winds and the Mt. Pine beetle, which has destroyed numerous trees in Colorado and thus has contributed to a massive amount of unburned fire fuel, the conditions were ripe for a large fire, she said.

“It’s been a recipe for disaster for a long time,” she said of the fire near Ft. Collins.

Nicole Mahrt Ganely, a spokeswoman with the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, said the group has been hearing from its members for some time they have been mobilizing personnel to handle claims related to the wildfires in the West.

“It’s going to be a very active season unfortunately,” she said.

One of the newer fires Ganely’s group is dealing with is the Little Bear fire in New Mexico near Ruidoso. That fire was reportedly started by a lightning strike on June 4 and has consumed more than 35,000 acres. Several different evacuations are under way, and 35 structures have been destroyed by the fire, which is 30 percent contained.

She couldn’t offer estimates of insured damages from that fire.

“We’re still in the first phase, which is active firefighting,” she said. “The most important thing is for people to evacuate and get out of harm’s way.”

She said PCI members have been examining books of businesses and those with a lot of policies where wildfires are burning have been deploying increasing numbers of personnel to the regions.

“Everyone’s on alert if you write in that state,” she said.

Topics Catastrophe Natural Disasters Wildfire

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