The wildfires in California’s North Bay area that started on October 8 and killed 44 people – “the most destructive and deadliest in our state’s history,” as the California Department of Insurance said on Wednesday – caused $9.0 billion in claimed losses so far. This is triple the $3 billion of claimed losses insurers reported a month ago.
With the October fires in southern California included, the amount of losses rises to $9.4 billion.
This does not include the losses from fires currently raging in Southern California, such as the Skirball fire in the Bel Air neighborhood of Los Angeles that is threatening the homes of many celebrities and potentates – including Elon Musk, who owns five homes in the neighborhood, and Rupert Murdoch. The fire is also threatening the Getty Museum. Any losses from those current fires will be on top of the $9.4 billion.
We say that there are two seasons in California: rainy season (if any) and fire season. This year, both of them have been ferocious.
The report by the insurance commissioner is based on claims data as of December 1, supplied by over 260 insurance companies. Any claims made after that date are not included. The insurers reported some sobering numbers of the devastation, according to claims filed by policy holders so far:
Sonoma County got hit the hardest among the impacted counties with nearly $7.49 billion in claimed losses, including:
Napa County accounted for $1.27 billion in claimed losses, including $1.1 billion for residential properties, involving nearly 2,500 claims, with 447 for total losses.
In Mendocino County, policy holders have filed $182 million in claims so far. The counties of Butte, Lake, Nevada, Yuba, and in southern California, Orange also sustained losses.
Of the $9.4 billion in claims, insurers have so far paid out $3.19 billion, according to the Insurance Department.
But numerous homeowners are finding out that their homes were underinsured. Vehicles without comprehensive insurance were not covered. Countless personal items were destroyed that were not insured.
Marijuana growers were not covered. Under California law, medical marijuana has been legal for two decades, and “recreational” marijuana will become legal on January 1. Under Federal law, all of it remains illegal, creating a no-man’s land for insurers and banks in the booming business. Some of the crops, buildings, and equipment were destroyed. None were insured. Anecdotally, it was reported that some properties burned down with substantial amounts of paper cash inside as banks don’t service this industry.
Part of the land turned to ash, including entire neighborhoods of Santa Rosa. Business operations were disrupted and jobs disappeared at least temporarily. Infrastructure was damaged. Tourism – a big thing in beautiful Sonoma County – has taken a major hit. And a lot of other damage occurred that was not covered by insurance. So the ultimate monetary damage will be far larger than the aggregate insurance claims reported by the industry — and may never be fully known.
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