Insurance claims for latest California wildfires top $9 billion

by Reuters
Thursday, 13 December 2018 02:51 GMT

(Adds data comparing latest insurance claims with record 2017 losses; figures do not include potential utility liability)

By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES, Dec 12 (Reuters) - Insurance claims from the recent spate of California wildfires, including one ranked as the most deadly and destructive in state history, have topped $9 billion and are expected to grow, the state insurance commissioner reported on Wednesday.

The claims, so far, fall short of the record $12 billion in wildfire-related insured losses sustained in California in 2017, most of that from more than a dozen blazes that swept a large swath of wine country north of San Francisco Bay, killing 46 people.

This year, the Camp Fire that erupted on Nov. 8 has accounted for the bulk of the claims, just over $7 billion of the total. The wind-driven blaze quickly incinerated most of the Sierra foothills town of Paradise, about 175 miles (280 km) north of San Francisco, destroying 18,500 homes and businesses and killing 86 people.

The casualty toll stands as the greatest loss of life from a single wildfire on record in California, and the highest from any U.S. wildfire during the past century.

A pair of smaller blazes that broke out at about the same time in Southern California, the Woolsey and Hill fires, killed three people and destroyed some 1,500 structures and forced the evacuation of thousands in the Malibu area west of Los Angeles.

The insurance commissioner put preliminary insurance claims from those two fires combined at more than $2 billion, bringing the total for all three of last month's blazes to $9.05 billion.

The tally reflects losses for residential and commercial coverage, as well as for motor vehicles, agriculture, machinery and other assets, the Insurance Department said.

"The devastating wildfires of 2018 were the deadliest and most destructive wildfire catastrophes in California's history," Commissioner Dave Jones said in a statement.

The numbers released on Wednesday stem from almost 40,000 separate claims, more than a fourth of which represent total losses. Most of those, 10,564, were for personal residential property, the commissioner said.

But the figures do not include billions of dollars in potential losses faced by Pacific Gas & Electric Company in the event the utility's electrical equipment is ultimately found to have caused the Camp Fire. PG&E Corp has said its liability could exceed its insurance coverage if that happens.

Citigroup Inc analysts have projected the company's potential exposure from the blaze could exceed $15 billion. (Reporting by Steve Gorman; editing by Bill Tarrant and Lisa Shumaker)

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