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Wildfires and Housing: Knowing the Risks

Wildfire resiliency

According to data from CoreLogic [1], 2004 was the first time over 8 million acres burned in one year. During the next 14 years, more than 8 million acres burned annually another eight times, making nine of the last 14 years the highest annual totals of burned wildfire acreage. After several years of these record-breaking wildfires, The 2019 CoreLogic Wildfire Risk Report analyzed properties at risk of damage from wildfires in the United States.

CoreLogic’s study revealed not only a continuation of fires and associated destruction in the United States but an escalation of these events. Based on an analysis by CoreLogic for 2019, there are 775,654 residential properties at extreme risk of wildfire damage in the 13 Western states, with a reconstruction cost value (RCV) of just over $221 billion.

Due to both their larger geographic size and large populations, California and Texas lead the United States in the number of residences and RCV in the high- and extreme-risk categories. Both states contain fuels and terrain that contribute to higher risk classifications and have population centers near high-risk areas. Colorado, which has experienced several record-setting fires since 2010, ranks third for the number of homes in both the high and extreme categories. While other states tend to have fewer properties, of the remaining 10 states, half have more than 50,000 residences in the high- and extreme-risk categories combined.

California, however, cannot be topped when it comes to wildfire devastation over the past two years. In 2017, California’s wildfires, including the Tubbs Fire and the Thomas Fire dwarfed previous records for both the size of the fires and the amount of destruction. In 2018, new records were set again for both categories, along with the number of deaths for a single wildfire event, the Camp Fire.

“When considering the future of wildfire risk in the Western United States, it will likely expand to more homes and result in the greater property losses than we have seen in the past,” said CoreLogic. “As unfortunate as it sounds, there are other communities similar to Paradise where fuels are present and homes are at risk. It only requires the right weather conditions and an errant spark to create the next unwanted record.”