Santa Barbara Fire: A Costly Disaster

Though the wildfire in Santa Barbara county has been mostly contained, damage estimates continue to rise. Authorities say 77 homes have been destroyed — nearly double what was originally estimated — in the affluent Southern California area of Jesusita.

The median home value for the Jesusita area is just over USD 500k, but it does contain a number of multi-million dollar mansions—several of which reportedly have been destroyed. Buildings in the area are constructed of stucco walls and chimney finishes, have shed (flat) roofs covered with low-pitched clay tile and terra cotta or cast-concrete ornaments. The homes generally have little cleared area separating them from the surrounding vegetation, which consists of an equal mix of chaparral, brush, and conifers. In many cases, even homes that do have partial setbacks will be affected by encroaching flames, depending on the direction of the fire and accompanying winds.

The blaze is 65% contained and all but 375 residents from 145 homes had been allowed to move back in. Insured losses from this fire are expected to be large, but residents of California are no strangers to insurance claims resulting from wildfires. As the Insurance Information Institute reports:

Nine of the ten largest wildfires, in terms of insured property losses, occurred prior to 2007, according to ISO data. A 1991 wildfire in Oakland, California tops the list with $ $2,687 in insured losses in 2008 dollars. In October 2007 a series of wildfires broke out across Southern California, damaging thousands of homes and causing widespread evacuations. The largest of these fires, the October 21 Witch fire, resulted in $1.4 billion in insured losses and was the second most damaging wildfire since 1970, in 2008 dollars.

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