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California fire losses may pass $17 billion: RMS

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Insured losses from California’s Camp and Woolsey fires, which started earlier this month, will reach $US9-$US13 billion ($12.4-$17.9 billion), risk modeller RMS estimates.

The Camp fire, the most destructive in the state’s history, is likely to cause losses of $US7.5-$US10 billion ($10.3-$13.8 billion).

The fire wiped out the town of Paradise northeast of San Francisco, and has killed more than 80 people.

Losses from Woolsey, which ignited in Ventura County before spreading to Malibu west of Los Angeles, are estimated at $US1.5-$US3 billion ($2.1-$4.1 billion).

RMS estimates include property and motor damage, business interruption, additional living expenses and contents losses.

“In the wake of consecutive record-breaking wildfire seasons, we are hopeful that more focus will be placed on fire mitigation, safe construction practices and community resilience,” RMS Chief Risk Modelling Officer Mohsen Rahnama said.

The Camp fire was in a forested area, while the Woolsey fire burned in shrubland.

Both spread quickly through dry vegetation on hilly terrain amid abnormally high temperatures and intense seasonal winds.

AM Best says in recent years there has been a rise in non-renewals in high-risk counties by “admitted” insurers, which are subject to a regulatory regime that includes filing rates to the California Department of Insurance.

“We believe there are insurance companies that are choosing to limit their risk to these types of risk areas, which at the same time is creating opportunities for non-admitted insurers such as Lloyd’s,” AM Best Associate Director Jason Hopper said.

The ratings agency says insurance claims are rising as people move into more fire-prone areas of California, while the state is experiencing higher temperatures and drier conditions.

“Given the greater propensity of wildfire outbreaks, there’s no question there’s going to be a need for reconsideration in terms of underwriting and pricing strategies when you are looking at climate change and population trends that have changed the paradigm,” AM Best Senior Research Analyst David Blades said.

Fitch Ratings says the California fires are likely to rank among the costliest wildfire catastrophe loss events for the property and casualty industry.

“Losses will likely negatively impact fourth-quarter earnings of companies with material property exposure in the state,” it says in a report.

But losses are likely to remain within sums the industry anticipates when pricing catastrophe risk, and affected companies are generally national carriers with large capital bases and high insurer financial strength ratings, Fitch says.