California wildfires continue to rage for the fifth straight day

by Jon Sonnenschein on October 12, 2017

California wildfiresCalifornia wildfires burn a Paras Vineyards building burns in the Napa area Oct. 10, 2017 (courtesy of Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)

This fall, it seems that we can’t catch a break from natural catastrophes and extreme weather. While many people have been eyeing the record-setting hurricanes we’ve seen over the last few months, wildfires in the West are rapidly competing for our attention. Northern California is the latest area to be hit by wildfires, and as of Thursday, they’ve burned for five days straight, with the worst occurring in Napa and Sonoma counties.

Here’s what we know so far:

  • At least 40 people have died, with 200 missing
  • About 5,700 homes and businesses have been destroyed
  • More than 75,000 have been evacuated
  • The wildfires have burned more than 217,000 acres across the state of California
  • More than 91,000 customers across the state are without power
  • 50+ MPH winds have led to extreme rates of spread and volatile burning conditions

In particular, the fires have been a major blow to California’s $58 billion wine industry. And while it’s too early to know exactly how much this will cost, a significant amount of California vineyard acreage will be out of commission due to smoke and fire. And as Phil Lynch, spokesperson for Brown-Forman Corp., which owns Sonoma-Cutrer vineyards, mentioned, “If it’s only smoke damage, it’s one season. If it’s fire damage, it’ll be three or four seasons.” With some vineyards out of operation for potentially years, business interruption coverage will surely play a big role in this event as things unfold. 

What can you do about the wildfires, right now?

These wildfires have already caused significant damage, and losses are piling up as a result. Right now, the most important thing you can do is gauge your current exposure and understand what your losses look like. Then, you’ll need to take a look at the extent and potential spread of the event to determine any losses that may be incurred from the spread of the fire. Understanding the potential path of the fires is crucial, as they are spreading incredibly fast, having advanced at a rate of more than a football field every three seconds on Monday.

To determine where your claims are most likely to occur from the fires, you can leverage GeoMAC data available within the SpatialKey wildfire application and layer your portfolio(s) on top of it to see what your exposure looks like. RedZone fire extent data is also available to you to help understand the severity of the fires and the impact to your book of business (watch our webinar to learn more about how we’re collaborating with RedZone). Users can apply buffers around insured locations, or the event extent, to understand the potential spread of the wildfires, as well as the likelihood of account locations getting burned that haven’t yet been exposed. Both sources will be updated regularly, so make sure to check back early and often to see the extent and spread of the wildfires in conjunction with your portfolio over the coming days.

California wildfires reduce neighborhood to rubbleA neighborhood reduced to rubble due to California wildfires (courtesy of Josh Haner/The New York Times)

Track and get updates on California wildfires

This event is constantly evolving, as the fires are spreading quickly (due to high-speed winds and favorable conditions for wildfire), making it obvious that we need to constantly monitor them. Here the top resources outside of SpatialKey, RedZone, and GeoMAC for you to stay informed of the ever-changing conditions:

  • Cal Fire: Includes a list of all of the active fires in California, maps, acres burned per fire, incident updates, road closures, emergency information, and evacuations.
  • CNN: Live reports on the wildfires, live site updates as the fires spread, additional information on number of deaths, acres burned, missing persons, and more.
  • LA Times: News stories and regular updates in regards to tracking the event, understanding the spread and response efforts, and information on  recovery efforts.
  • The Weather Channel: Provides regular updates, information, and stories about the wildfires including deaths, acres burned, forecasts, and response deployments.

These wildfires aren't over yet

It was forecasted on Wednesday that the winds were expected to pick back up, which is what originally made the fires so severe. On Sunday, the fires were catalyzed by 79 MPH winds—the strength of a Category 1 hurricane. On Wednesday, gusts around 40 MPH are possible, and as CNN meteorologist Chad Myers said, "Any time you get a wind gust over double digits, like 12 or 13 mph, that's when embers can fly.” Floating embers can and will contribute to the spread of this event, and will make it even more difficult to fight the fires. The best thing that you can do is stay on top of your exposure, understand where claims resources will need to be deployed, and forecast your potential exposure.

As this event unfolds and continues to evolve, we’ll be here with you every step of the way. To learn more about leveraging RedZone and GeoMAC data in SpatialKey, reach out to your dedicated account manager, or contact us anytime. For anyone in the area, stay safe and out of harm’s way.

To prepare for next season and lessen potential losses, download our wildfire webinar with RedZone today to ensure you're equipped with the best wildfire data for underwriting.

Topics: wildfire risk, wildfire data, RedZone, California Wildfires

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