Report: Insured Losses in Colorado Wildfires Nearly $450 Million

By | July 17, 2012

The two most destructive wildfires in Colorado’s history will cost insurers roughly $450 million, a regional insurance association said on Tuesday.

The massive figure for insured losses comes from the total 600 homes destroyed and other damages, according to the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association.

It’s likely the figure will reach or exceed the half-billion-dollar mark, as insured losses for such large fires tend to rise as the claims process continues, according to the group, which had previously said the figure would likely be into the “hundreds of millions of dollars.”

In fact, RMIIA called the figure for the fires, which is actually $449.7 million, “preliminary.”

“These first numbers we see do tend to go up,” said Carole Walker, executive director of RMIIA. “Especially with so many losses.”

There are several outstanding claims numbers for personal belongings, proof of loss and other documenting processes are still underway, and rebuilding numbers may also rise when that process begins, she said.

“Those numbers will likely go up,” Walker said, adding that it’s likely the half-billion-dollar mark will be surpassed. “I think that’s safe to say.”

There are roughly 200 companies that sell homeowners’ insurance in Colorado, and RMIIA complies estimates from adjusters from the top 10 to 15 companies – large carriers like State Farm, Farmers, Allstate, American Family, USAA – and uses a percentage for the smaller companies to come up with a number for insured losses.

Most of the reported losses are from homes totaled by the fire, Walker said.

“The lion’s share of it will be destroyed structures – homes,” she added.

Also contributing significantly to the loss figures are extra endorsements for coverage in homeowners’ policies, such as endorsements for building code upgrades, and endorsements for more expensive items in a home, such as jewelry, she said.

Damage estimates also include smoke damage, additional living expenses, and vehicles totaled or damaged. Insured costs for commercial losses are not included in either fire estimate.

The estimated insured losses make the Waldo Canyon Fire in Colorado Springs the state’s most expensive wildfire, with insurance costs totaling more than $352.6 million from roughly 4,300 claims filed so far.

There were 346 homes destroyed in that fire, and at one point last month the fire forced the evacuation of more than 32,000 residents, with more than 20,000 residences and 160 commercial structures being threatened. Pikes Peak and the U.S. Air Force Academy were among the structures threatened.

At the time Gov. John Hickenlooper authorized roughly $25 million in emergency funds for the fire, and President Barack Obama paid a visit to the area and declared a disaster.

The High Park Fire near Fort Collins burned 259 homes, with an 850 reported insurance claims filed so far. The insurance costs are estimated at $97.1 million for the High Park Fire. In terms of size the High Park Fire is the third largest in the state’s history. The 2002 Hayman fire, which consumed 137,760 acres, was the state’s largest.

The High Park Fire surpassed the 2010 Fourmile Canyon wildfire in terms of destructive force, but not total losses.

The two fires combined to surpass 2010 as the most costly wildfire season in state history. That year the Fourmile Canyon Fire, which claimed a large number of high-dollar value properties, resulted in $224 million in insured damage adjusted for inflation in today’s dollars.

The National Weather Service said cooler temperatures and higher humidity moved in and assisted firefighting efforts earlier this month to help achieve full containment on both Colorado wildfires. Humidity percentages in the single digits, and temperatures around 90 degrees had been prevalent in the area.

“It looks like the monsoon has opened up and helped mid and central Colorado,” said Heath Hockenberry, national fire weather programs manager for NWS.

The monsoon season normally arrives around the first week of July and moves into portions of New Mexico and Colorado sometime around the second week of the month, bringing generous amount of rain – sometimes as much an one or two inches of rain within a half-hour period. Continuing periods of intense, short-duration rain can be experienced over several weeks.

It’s too early to tell whether Colorado’s wildfire season can be called to a close, Hockenberry said.

“It’s not done, but they are picking up rainfall, which is helping a lot,” he added.

Topics Catastrophe Natural Disasters Profit Loss Wildfire Colorado

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