A.M. Best Examines California Wildfires: The New Normal?

Wildfire viewed at night from distance burning in hills and valleys

August 21, 2018

Wildfire viewed at night from distance burning in hills and valleys

As housing development has ramped up in more rural areas and wildlands in California, the resulting wildfire threat for insurers has continued to grow, according to a new A.M. Best briefing.

The Best's Briefing, "Wildfires: The New Normal?" found that 45 of the 58 counties in California have experienced population growth since 2012. Given the already heightened construction demand from the wildfire losses in 2017 and a favorable housing market, the continued demand for construction labor and materials following the current Carr wildfire in northern California may lead to higher insured losses. Ultimately, 2018 may produce greater losses for insurers compared with 2017. Compounding the wildfire risk, 12 of the last 19 years in California have seen below-average precipitation. The combination of longer sustained higher temperatures along with less frequent rainfall heightens the risk of fire.

For homeowners and farmowners writers in California, direct losses incurred nearly quadrupled to $16.0 billion in 2017, compared with $4.2 billion in 2016, mainly due to the 2017 fire season. In addition, the 10 largest premium writers in California posted a direct loss and adjustment expense ratio in 2017 that was also nearly four times higher than was reported in 2016 on average.

Insurers will need to reevaluate wildfire risks in California, given that the highly destructive current and 2017 wildfires predominantly are occurring or did occur in areas classified as low to moderate risk. A.M. Best believes insurers' risk-scoring models likely need adjusting with more improved loss-reduction strategies put into place to reflect this new normal. The California wildfires demonstrate the essential role insurers play in the economy during catastrophe-filled times and underscore the need for prudence in capital and risk management. A working partnership between home owners and insurers can lead to enhanced risk mitigation strategies to manage an increasingly destructive trend.

A complimentary copy of this briefing is available on the A.M. Best website with site login registration.

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August 21, 2018