Western US burns, agents scramble to assess damage

Western US burns, agents scramble to assess damage

Western US burns, agents scramble to assess damage By Elise Linscott
It’s been a dry summer. For the western states, that has led to hundreds of wildfires ripping through acres of land, burning everything in their path. It’s also meant devastation for property owners, and losses and long hours for insurance brokers working on an influx of claims.

Alaska has been dealing with the second worst year for wildfires in the state’s history. By mid-August, more than 200 fires were burning across the state. At the same time, fires have been burning through Washington, California, Idaho and Oregon, forcing thousands to evacuate.

Agents in these areas are watching the fires closely, hoping their businesses aren’t affected. Shae Webster, owner of Boise, Idaho-based Anderson-Shae Insurance, is one of those agents.

“I’ve got a house that’s pretty close but so far I haven’t had any insurances lost on any properties in either of the wildfires,” Webster said. 

Still, fires affect more than just the land they burn. Many property owners are indirectly affected, and the local economy may take a hit as well.

“It’s burning up resources, burning up wildlife, homes, values. We’ll never see the forest back to the way it was in our lifetime,” says Webster. “Heck, some of our kids won’t because of how long it takes the trees to grow. Then it affects our streams and our water, as ash gets in and kills fish. There’s air pollution, too, of course. It affects everybody somewhere along the way, and the economy gets affected by that too.”

On Friday, Aug. 14, a fierce lightning storm struck in Chelan, Washington. The lightning sparked a wildfire referred to as the Chelan Complex fire that had burned through 56,500 acres by the following Monday, the Seattle Times reported.

Insurance agencies in and around Chelan, including VIP Insurance Agency, which has multiple offices in the area, were working fiercely after the weekend to assess the damage, employees said, though agency executives were not available for comment. 

Webster said she isn’t overly worried about the future of her business – she’s been in this situation before, as the last three years have seen tremendous wildfires around Idaho, she said – but she does hope she doesn’t have any big losses. 

To other agents who may be in wildfire-prone areas, Webster recommends spreading out your book of business. “Don’t put it all in one location, that could be a major hit,” she said.