Wildfires Blaze through Western U.S. and Canada

Following a wet spring, at least six western states are now fighting wildfires, which have been intensified by extremely high temperatures, wind gusts and lightning.

In northern California, about 4,000 people evacuated and more than 7,000 were told to prepare to leave as fires burned in the Sierra Nevada foothills, about 60 miles north of Sacramento, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

The fire has burned nearly four square miles, injured four firefighters and destroyed at least 10 structures so far, fire spokeswoman Mary Ann Aldrich told The Oregonian. The area burning was southeast of Oroville, where recently spillways in the nation’s tallest dam began crumbling from heavy rains, leading to evacuation of 200,000 residents downstream.

More than 14 fires are burning in Nevada and a state of emergency was declared in Arizona. While a 15-square-mile fire is partially under control in Montana, hot, dry weather and thunderstorms are threatening.

Other states including Oregon, Washington, Idaho and New Mexico are either battling fires or monitoring conditions in order to prevent them.
Western Canada is also seeing its share of wildfires. Evacuations are in effect for up to 10,000 residents in British Columbia, as 17 fires burn.

Kevin Skrepnek, chief information officer for the British Columbia Wildfire Service, told the Vancouver Sun that gusty winds and hot, dry conditions are expected to continue for days.

“Unfortunately, in terms of the weather forecast, we’re not really seeing any reprieve in the immediate future,” he said. Skrepnek noted that 572 fires have started and that 98,842 acres have burned since April 1. About 1,000 firefighters are currently on the front lines.
Residents of Fort McMurray, Canada, who saw major losses after a fire last year burned for months, are still rebuilding. Risk Management Magazine reported in September that the fire became the largest and most expensive natural disaster in Canada’s history, surpassing floods in Alberta in 2013. The Fort McMurray wildfire charred more than 1.43 million acres of land and destroyed at least 10% of the city, including more than 2,400 homes, businesses and other structures.

Commercial and personal damages from the wildfire are estimated at $6 billion, according to the Insurance Bureau of Canada. Thomas Johansmeyer, assistant vice president of property claim services strategy and development at Verisk Insurance Solutions, said the preliminary estimate for insured losses has come in at $3.5 billion (CAN $4.6 billion). Oil sands losses are included in the commercial component of the estimate.

To help people who are currently displaced in British Columbia, residents of Fort McMurray are rallying to collect and deliver much needed supplies. They are filling trailers with item requested, including water, bandages, eye drops, energy drinks, department store and gas station gift cards, sunscreen and toilet paper, and delivering them to British Columbia residents in need.

Recap of 2016 Weather Events

The 2016 hurricane season, which ends today, has been the deadliest since 2005 and the most active and costliest since 2012. In all there were 15 named storms and seven hurricanes, three of them major hurricanes. Hurricane Matthew, a Category 5, was responsible for more than 1,600 deaths and insured loss estimates of about $7 billion.

Other major storms that hit the United States in 2016 include Winter Storm Jonas, Louisiana flooding, hailstorms, tornadoes and hurricanes. For a recap of 2016 storms check out Interstate’s year-in-review infographic:
yearinreviewinfographic

Making the Most out of a Crisis

CALGARY, ALBERTA, CANADA—Suppose your company experiences a major hurricane, tornado or fire: Property is destroyed and your business is stalled, meaning customers are left waiting. But there are buildings to be rebuilt and equipment to be replaced, and the claims process hasn’t even started. This is when the risk manager’s skills at placing the company’s insurance coverage and negotiating for the best payout can not only demonstrate their true value, but can put the company back on course, according to experts here at RIMS Canada’s annual conference.

“When there’s a serious property loss, this is the time for the risk manager to shine, because up until then it’s about premium, premium, premium,” Tom Parsons, manager of risk management at Fairmont Raffles Hotels International in Toronto said during a RIMS Canada Conference session. “Up until a serious loss occurs, I don’t think you feel the impact that you can give back to the company. Because what we do is buy insurance, so it has to work. It is what you helped craft and build into your policy through the years. You have created a policy that is robust, and that is going to cover everything—you hope.”

Among the examples cited was a soft drink bottling plant flooded with eight feet of water following a hurricane. While the company’s high-speed bottling equipment was damaged and would need to be replaced, explained Jeffrey Phillips, managing director in PwC’s U.S. forensic advisory practice, the issue was that floodwaters were highly contaminated due to a number of chicken and hog farms in the area. As a result, the company determined that the building could not be used for any type of food processing and would need to be demolished. The insurer, however, argued that the walls could be sealed, containing any contaminants. The company had found a competitor to do some of the bottling, but it wasn’t enough to fill their orders, Phillips said.

Because delivery of the new bottling equipment was slated to take months, there was also a large business interruption period being covered, he said. This is when innovation came into play. The bottling company was able to show the insurer that buying another plant rather than rebuilding would put them back in business sooner, cutting back on their losses. The insurer agreed and sent them a check. As a result, the company purchased a larger facility in a better location.

“They were up and running in six months—the business interruption had stopped,” he said. The better location also meant reduced shipping costs and the company gained market share. Because the company was able to make the case to its insurer, both came out ahead in the long run.

Phillips recommended that companies negotiating after a crisis “communicate, communicate, communicate” with their insurers.

They should also get their insurers to sign off on major contracts such as scope of work, rates and overhead and discuss changes to operations or facilities with the adjustment team and agree on scope of property damage repair or replacement whenever possible.

Insurers will typically push to return the facility to pre-loss condition, “unless you can prove the changes will save them money,” he added. “Insurers will not be creative for you, they don’t know your business or your goals.”

Fort McMurray Wildfire Insured Losses Up to $6.9 Billion

Ft-McMurray map

NASA Fort McMurray wildfire map

Insured loss estimates from the wildfire in Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, are projected between $3.4 billion and $6.9 billion, catastrophe modeling firm AIR Worldwide reported. Officials are still in the early stages of assessing damage caused by the wildfire that began on May 1 and quickly spread from forests to neighborhoods, outpacing local firefighters’ capacity to contain it. According to AIR, the Fort McMurray wildfire is the costliest natural disaster in Canada’s history.

The fire had initially moved away from Fort McMurray, but shifted back toward the city this week, causing evacuations for the second time. About 500 to 600 people were evacuated from four small work camps, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said in a news conference on Monday.

The fire is still uncontained and, as of May 14, had covered nearly 600,000 acres, mainly in wildlands and away from population centers. Winds are now calmer and temperatures have lowered, with considerable cloud cover and a possible shower expected—all of which are expected to help firefighting efforts.

The fire’s new threat reversed earlier efforts to return local oil sands projects to full operation, the New York Times reported. The highway through Fort McMurray was reopened several days ago to allow workers to return to the work sites, but was closed again on Monday.

Premier Notley said that five things need to be in place before residents may reenter Fort McMurray:

  • Wildfire is no longer an imminent threat to the community
  • Critical infrastructure is repaired to provide basic services
  • Essential services, such as fire, EMS, police and health care are restored to a basic level
  • Hazardous areas are secure—100 truckloads of fencing are being sent to Fort McMurray
  • Local government is re-established

Firefighting crews are still trying to put out fires in the northern part of the city. Fort McMurray’s airport, water treatment plant, municipal building, hospital and all functioning schools were safeguarded, according to AIR. The airport continues to be used only for wildfire aircraft operations, however, and is closed to commercial and private aircraft until further notice. Current information suggests that a total of more than 2,400 structures have been lost—roughly 10% of the total number.

AIR said its loss estimates capture residential, commercial and automobile losses, as well as business interruption losses, except those related to the oil industry. AIR derived its loss estimates based on high-resolution Industry Exposure Database (IED) for Canada and damage ratios estimated from satellite imagery and experience from claims adjustments for historical U.S. wildfires. IED exposure values included in loss estimates have been trended to Jan. 1, 2016.

The wildfires in Canada illustrate a continuing trend of increasingly severe wildfires that caused a record 10.1 million acres to be burned in the United States in 2015, surpassing the previous high of 9.8 million acres in 2006, Mark Crawford reported in last month’s issue of Risk Management. It was the fourth year in the past decade in which more than nine million acres burned. According to the U.S. Forest Service, the 2015 wildfire season was the costliest on record, with more than $2 billion spent fighting fires.