While residents of the leveled California town of Paradise still wait to return home, the state announced Wednesday that insurance claims from the state’s wildfires last month so far total $9 billion.
Although the preliminary total does not exceed last year’s record $11.8 billion payments after blazes ripped through California’s wine country, the insurance commissioner said it will likely rise.
“The devastating wildfires of 2018 were the deadliest and most destructive wildfire catastrophes in California’s history,” said Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones. “The tragic deaths of (89) people and over $9 billion in insured losses to date are shocking numbers — behind the insured loss numbers are thousands of people who’ve been traumatized by unfathomable loss.”
Collectively, the Camp, Woolsey and Hill fires destroyed 19,000 homes and businesses. The Camp Fire in Northern California has claimed 86 lives so far, making it the nation’s deadliest wildfire in a century. On Wednesday, the Butte County Sheriff said three people are still missing since the fire started on Nov. 8.
The Woolsey Fire in Southern California ravaged celebrity homes in Malibu, including those of Miley Cyrus and Neil Young.
The preliminary $9.05 billion in actual losses includes commercial and residential coverage, personal and commercial vehicles, and agricultural coverage. As insurers continue assessments, the department will update the total.
Jones has warned increasing risk from wildfires in California could prompt insurers to raise premiums or decline to sell policies entirely to homes in high-risk areas.
State and federal authorities estimated Tuesday that it will cost at least $3 billion to clear debris, mostly in Northern California. Less than one week after the Camp Fire was contained on Nov. 25, flash floods triggered evacuations in some burn areas.
The disaster relief officials said the cleanup costs will far surpass the record cleanup expense of $1.3 billion the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers spent on debris removal in Northern California in 2017.
California Office of Emergency Services Director Mark Ghilarducci said the state will manage cleanup contracts this time. Last year, hundreds of Northern California homeowners complained that contractors paid by the ton hauled away too much dirt and damaged unbroken driveways, sidewalks and pipes. The state OES spent millions repairing that damage.
Ghilarducci said the state OES will hire auditors and monitors to watch over the debris removal in hopes of cutting down on the number of over-eager contractors.
“We learned a great number of things,” last year, Ghilarducci said.
He said the U.S. Corps of Engineers was asked to lead the effort last year because state resources were stretched thin after responding to more than a dozen wildfires. This year, he said state officials can manage the cleanup and costs will be shared among state, federal and local authorities.
Cleanup is expected to begin in January and take about a year to complete, Ghilarducci said. State and federal officials are currently removing hazardous household materials from the damaged properties.
Contributing: The Associated Press
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