Colorado Wild Fire Could Cost Over $1 Billion

by Jennifer Shea
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A catastrophe modeling firm is estimating that the recent Marshall Fire in Boulder County, Colorado could cost insurers upwards of $1 billion.

Karen Clark & Company (KCC) said today that the costly Marshall Fire was not an anomaly but a symptom of longer fire seasons and rising temperatures. The wildfire set a new record as the most destructive fire in the state’s history.

And experts add that the wildfire itself is the result of trends, such as increasing development of rural areas, that is only likely to get worse, per Reuters.

“The Marshall Fire became the most destructive fire in Colorado’s history partially due to its location in the wildland-urban interface,” Jeff Amthor, assistant vice president of research at risk modeling firm AIR, told Reuters. “[That’s] the region where unmanaged (or natural) vegetation meets urban expansion.”

The Colorado State Forest Service said that by 2018, nearly half of Colorado’s population lived in areas with wildfire risk, a nearly 50 percent increase over just five years.

Colorado Fire Season Is Stretching Longer than Before

In previous years, Colorado’s wildfire season has ended by the time winter rolls around. Snow cover and cold temperatures make it less likely that fires will spark and spread. But drought across the West combined with rising global temperatures have left Colorado vulnerable to winter wildfires, KCC said. It’s one more downside to climate change.

Colorado’s biggest wildfire remains the Pine Gulch Fire of 2020. But the Marshall Fire was more destructive. It tore through roughly 6,000 acres total.

Within the Marshall Fire burn area, there are 1,725 homes, valued at $825 million total, AIR estimated. The wildfire destroyed or damaged 1,100 structures, according to KCC.

By 6 a.m. Wednesday, Colorado officials had lifted the remaining evacuation orders for most of Superior and all of Boulder County, the Denver Post reports. The Marshall Fire is now 100 percent contained. But officials warn there remain hot spots within the fire perimeter.

Risk Experts Say ‘Secondary Peril’ Weather Events Are on the Rise

Another result of climate change is a spike in “secondary peril” weather events. Those are not as big as hurricanes. But they’re more unpredictable. They include localized phenomena such as wildfires, hail storms and winter storms.

“We do see this [Marshall Fire] as part of a broader trend of more acute, ‘secondary’ perils,” David Flandro, head of analytics at broker Howden, told Reuters.

Risk experts say secondary peril weather events are confounding insurers. And, in the end, they’re driving up premium costs for customers.

But homeowners have little alternative. The costs of not insuring one’s home are becoming astronomical, especially out West. So customers will have no choice but to pay up as wildfires and storms become more dangerous and destructive.

Outsider.com