Posted on 20 Sep 2010
The severe wildfires west of Boulder, Colorado, this month are a vivid reminder that these events occur in numerous states other than California and that consumers need to have the right type and amount of insurance coverage, according to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.).
"Damage caused by fire and smoke is covered under homeowners, renters and business insurance policies as well as under the comprehensive portion of an auto insurance policy," said Michael Barry, vice president, Media Relations at the I.I.I. "There is also coverage for water or other damage incurred in the course of extinguishing the fire."
Texas was the site of the most wildfires in the U.S. in 2009, followed by California, Georgia, North Carolina and Missouri, according to the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC). Alaska had the greatest number of acres burned by wildfires last year. Texas and New Mexico were ranked second and third in acreage burned while California and Arizona came in fourth and fifth place, respectively, the NIFC reported. ISO’s Property Claims Service estimates that since the year 2000, $484 million in insured losses in the U.S. can be attributed to wildfires, on average, each year.
The recent Colorado wildfires, now completely contained, destroyed nearly 200 structures northwest of Boulder and were not without precedent. About 600 Colorado structures were destroyed by wildfires southwest of Denver in June 2002, the NIFC stated.
With the desirability of housing in scenic, wooded settings, the number of people living in wildfire-prone areas has grown considerably. About 100 million people now live in neighborhoods exposed to wildfire throughout the country, according to U.S. population statistics. Increasingly large and destructive wildfires are putting more people and properties at risk. The cost of fighting these fires continues to rise; stretched thin by large fires, firefighters are increasingly forced to choose which homes and businesses to save. Often these choices are based on which structures are most accessible and defendable, according to the Institute for Business & Home Safety.
The National Fire Protection Association's Firewise Communities program encourages local solutions for wildfire safety by involving homeowners, community leaders, planners, developers, firefighters and others in the effort to protect people and property from the risk of wildfire. Firewise found that making entire neighborhoods fire-resistant slowed down the spread of fire. When homes are fire-resistant, not only are they less likely to burn, but the homes themselves can also act as a fire break, reducing the ultimate size of the fire and enabling it to be brought under control more easily. When houses are not fire resistant, they add greatly to the fuel load and therefore the potential for the fire to spread because they quickly burn down to the ground.
“To protect yourself from the economic consequences of fires and other disasters, it is crucial that you purchase enough insurance to rebuild your home and replace your possessions,” Barry added. “Too many policyholders are unfamiliar with what is in their policy until they have to file a claim and by then it is too late to purchase the right amount of financial protection.”