November 14th, 2018

Wildfire Activity – California

Posted at 9:37 PM ET

calwildfires-smallSignificant wildfires have affected areas of northern and southern California due to extremely dry, windy conditions and very dry fuels. In Northern California, the Camp Fire has burned at least 130,000 acres since November 8 and claimed at least 48 lives, making this the deadliest wildfire in known California history. Damage survey efforts are still ongoing, however initial reports indicate at least 7,600 residences destroyed with another 225 damaged. Meanwhile in Southern California, the Woolsey Fire has consumed at least 97,620 acres along with 483 structures, and at least two lives. Ongoing dry, windy conditions have offset containment efforts. However, aggressive firefighting efforts of over 5,100 firefighters have brought the Camp Fire and Woolsey Fire to 35 and 47 percent containment, respectively. The cause of these fires remains under investigation, according to Cal Fire. A federal disaster area has been declared to better allow emergency assistance. Improving weather conditions should enable greater progress with containment efforts over the coming days.

Event Background and Impacts

Northern California - Camp Fire

On Thursday, November 8 much of California experienced adverse fire weather conditions due to near-historic dry fuels, a lack of recent precipitation and a strong offshore wind event affecting much of the state. The strong offshore flow was driven by a strong area of high pressure over the interior Northwest, bringing extremely dry winds to the area. The U.S. Storm Prediction Center (SPC) identified a large area of critical fire weather risk in northern California where extreme low relative humidity values of 5 to 15 percent and sustained winds of 20-25 mph occurred.calwildfirebigHazard data illustrated in the CAT-i map was taken from GC AdvantagePoint®, Guy Carpenter’s web-based risk management platform. GC AdvantagePoint users can view impacted areas on any map as well as see how their portfolios were affected. Please contact your broker or cat modeling analyst for further information.

The Camp Fire was discovered early morning on November 8, approximately 20 miles to the east of Chico, California in the Feather River Canyon. Strong winds and dry fuels allowed for extreme fire behavior and ember transport to take the fire quickly to the west and southwest through the communities of Paradise, Magalia and Concow where significant to complete damage has been reported by media. Within two days the fire had burned over 100,000 acres. To date the fire has burned at least 130,000 acres.

Damage survey, search and recovery efforts are ongoing and it is too early to determine the full scope and severity of impacts of this event with full clarity. Initial reports from Cal Fire and media indicate at least 7,600 residences destroyed along with 48 confirmed fatalities making this the deadliest wildfire in known California state history. There are still 228 reported missing. Cal Fire reports that 15,500 structures remain under threat with numerous evacuation orders still active and 1,000 still in shelters. Lessening wind speeds and improved overnight humidity recoveries have offset further fire growth and allowed for increased containment. The fire is under 35 percent containment, and fire crews are building defenses on the northern and eastern flanks of the fire to protect the town of Cherokee and Stirling City. Air quality has suffered for surrounding areas with a rating of “unhealthy” for the Bay area, and numerous school closures in Sonoma County, according to media reports.


Camp Fire Perimeter from GEOMAC (USGS), November 14, 2018.


Fire Weather Outlook for 5 AM PDT (12 UTC) November 8. SOURCE: U.S. SPC

Southern California - Hill and Woolsey Fires

In Southern California, similar weather conditions with dry offshore flow have enabled extreme fire spread. The SPC identified a large area of critical fire weather conditions with an embedded area of extreme fire weather risk affecting the northern Los Angeles metro area on November 8. Sustained winds speeds of 30-35 mph were reported with higher gusts, along with relative humidity values below five percent. These conditions enabled extreme fire behavior in the area.

The Woolsey Fire was discovered the afternoon of November 8 approximately 5 miles southwest of Simi Valley, California. Driven by strong Santa Ana winds the fire quickly spread to the south to eventually reach the coast after crossing the U.S. 101 freeway. The fire has burned at least 97,620 acres according to Cal Fire, and has rendered significant impacts to affected communities including Thousand Oaks, Malibu and Calabasas. According to Cal Fire at least 483 structures have been destroyed with at least two fatalities. Up to 200,000 were displaced at the height of the fire. Dry, windy conditions have continued to affect the region allowing for steady fire growth; however improving conditions are forecast in the coming days which should allow for increased containment of the fire. The fire is under 47 percent containment according to Cal Fire, but at least 57,000 structures still remain under threat. Numerous evacuation orders remain active. Air quality has also suffered in surrounding regions.

Further west, the Hill Fire has burned about 4,531 acres and is now under 94 percent containment. At least two structures have been destroyed with another two damaged.


Hill Fire (Left) and Woolsey Fire (Right) Perimeters from GEOMAC (USGS), November 14, 2018.

Sources: Cal Fire, Reuters, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. National Weather Service, U.S. Storm Prediction Center, Associated Press, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Agence France Presse, Insurance Journal, RMS, CoreLogic.

Guy Carpenter publishes CAT-i reports for major natural catastrophes worldwide. These reports cover catastrophes including worldwide tropical cyclones, earthquakes, major UK and European floods and any other natural event that is likely to incur a significant loss to the (re)insurance industry. Please email if you wish to be added to the free email distribution list.

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