8 December 2017Insurance

Southern California wildfires burn homes, force evacuations

About 200,000 residents have been evacuated in Southern California as multiple wildfires have burned homes.

More than 100 structures have been destroyed by the still active Thomas, Skirball, Creek, and Rye Fires, which have burned 116,080 acres in total, according to risk modelling firm Air Worldwide.

Strong Santa Ana winds are worsening the wildfire threat, with wind gusts of up to 80 mph (equivalent to Category 1 hurricane winds) on Thursday, December 7, prompting the first purple wind warning—for extreme winds—ever issued for the area, which extends from San Diego to Santa Barbara and comprises a population of millions.

In total, about 200,000 people have been evacuated across the affected areas in Southern California. Hundreds of schools have closed, and thousands of firefighters are battling the blazes as strong winds exacerbate fire conditions.

Kevin Van Leer, senior product manager and US wildfire expert at catastrophe risk modelling firm RMS, commented: “The US wildfire season is not over yet. Monday, December 4th, several wildfires developed rapidly in Southern California – and were energized by significant Santa Ana winds. This special climate condition, though characteristic for the region, is particularly significant due to its current strength and duration. It’s important to note that special climate conditions such as the Santa Ana winds, the Diablo winds that blew through Northern California and other intense winds, are significant drivers for increased wildfire risk. The combination of these winds along with long-term dry conditions and low humidity can result in an ignition that can quickly turn into a catastrophic wildfire event.”

The event follows severe wildfires mainly in Northern California in October 2017 that have triggered total insured losses that top $9.4 billion in residential and commercial claims, according to the California Department of Insurance.

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More on this story

7 December 2017   California wildfires in October 2017 have triggered total insured losses that top $9.4 billion in residential and commercial claims two months after the event, according to the California Department of Insurance.
11 December 2017   A destructive wildfire raging in southern California has expanded significantly, scorching an area larger than New York City, BBC News reported on Dec. 11.