Insurance claims for latest California wildfires top US$9 billion

The blaze incinerated most of the Sierra foothills town of Paradise, destroying 18,500 homes and businesses and killing 86 people. PHOTO: AFP

LOS ANGELES (REUTERS) - Insurance claims from the recent spate of California wildfires, including one ranked as the most deadly and destructive in state history, have topped US$9 billion (S$12 billion) and are expected to grow, the state insurance commissioner reported on Wednesday (Dec 12).

The claims, so far, fall short of the record US$12 billion in wildfire-related insured losses sustained in California in 2017, most of that from more than a dozen blazes that swept a large swathe of wine country north of San Francisco Bay, killing 46 people.

This year, the Camp Fire that erupted on Nov 8 has accounted for the bulk of the claims, just over US$7 billion of the total.

The wind-driven blaze quickly incinerated most of the Sierra foothills town of Paradise, about 280km north of San Francisco, destroying 18,500 homes and businesses and killing 86 people.

The casualty toll stands as the greatest loss of life from a single wildfire on record in California, and the highest from any US wildfire during the past century.

A pair of smaller blazes that broke out at about the same time in Southern California, the Woolsey and Hill fires, killed three people and destroyed some 1,500 structures and forced the evacuation of thousands in the Malibu area west of Los Angeles.

The insurance commissioner put preliminary insurance claims from those two fires combined at more than US$2 billion, bringing the total for all three of last month's blazes to US$9.05 billion.

The tally reflects losses for residential and commercial coverage, as well as for motor vehicles, agriculture, machinery and other assets, the Insurance Department said.

"The devastating wildfires of 2018 were the deadliest and most destructive wildfire catastrophes in California's history," Commissioner Dave Jones said in a statement.

The numbers released on Wednesday stem from almost 40,000 separate claims, more than a fourth of which represent total losses. Most of those, 10,564, were for personal residential property, the commissioner said.

But the figures do not include billions of dollars in potential losses faced by Pacific Gas & Electric Company in the event the utility's electrical equipment is ultimately found to have caused the Camp Fire.

The company has said its liability could exceed its insurance coverage if that happens.

Citigroup Inc analysts have projected the company's potential exposure from the blaze could exceed US$15 billion.

Join ST's Telegram channel here and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.