While the Mendocino Complex fire is now the largest blaze ever recorded in California, the state is certainly not the only part of the US dealing with deadly flames. In recent weeks, Colorado has seen 14 wildfires burn in the Western Slope region, according to news reports, proving that 2017’s destructive wildfire season wasn’t just an anomaly, but a sign of things to come.
“Last year was exceptional in terms of the acreage burned and the severity of that season, and I do think that when you project what the trends look like moving forward, you would expect this to continue,” said Jason Metzger, senior vice president and head of risk management for PURE Insurance, adding that reports from the company’s partners giving a month-by-month indication of wildfire forecasts are looking a lot different.
“You would see the end of July, August, and beginning of September start to have less red color – if that’s the color that’s indicating the significant threat. We’re going well into September, October, and they haven’t yet put November out there, but I would imagine in the next few weeks, we’ll have a November forecast as well. Historically, you wouldn’t have even considered November as a month where things like this could occur. It’s certainly expanding and I think a lot of that is due to home construction going into areas where we typically haven’t gone before and the natural occurrence of wildfire.”
Through their experiences helping insureds prepare for and mitigate against the spread of wildfires on their properties, PURE’s risk managers have lessons to pass on to the insurance industry to reduce losses.
“When our risk managers engage with our members after binding the location, our job is to help them be really smart about the things that could happen and help them feel safer about living on that property where this peril may exist,” explained Metzger. “You need high temperatures, you need fuel and you need oxygen [for fires], and fuel is the area where we can help. When you talk about preventative measures, I think understanding what is around a property is the most important thing for one of our members.”
Since defensible space is the number one priority for the PURE team, they give members advice on clearing easily ignitable brush and wood piles, for instance, as well as noting the type of vegetation located around a property and the height of canopies or tree lines. During the High Park fire in Colorado in 2012, these mitigation methods were put to the test and came out on top.
“Because of defensible space and because of our risk managers’ advice upfront and because of the member advocates stepping in and helping one of our members actually fulfil this advice through a vendor, this particular fire destroyed 294 homes in a community and our home was one that was left standing at the end of this,” said Metzger, noting that proper sprinkler systems and other products were used in conjunction to help protect the home in the midst of the fire.
Certain neighborhoods are also looking to get an official Firewise designation, like Martis Camp in Northern California, where PURE is interested in writing business. The gated community has direct access to the Northstar ski resort and is in the middle of a high-density forest area. Each home is constructed with defensible space metrics in mind, according to Metzger, and certain building standards, like avoiding using shingles made from wood.
While wildfires have made headlines in 2017 and are on track to keep people’s attention through 2018, it’s still important to help clients on an individual basis understand what they can implement at home to protect themselves from the natural catastrophe.
“We can’t expect them to be fully up-to-speed on what they should be doing and that’s why, especially in high wildfire alert zones, we’re going to send a risk manager to the property to walk through a wildfire consultation,” Metzger told Insurance Business.