In 2014, the largest property loss in a fire in the United States did not come from a wildfire. Though, a $29.8 million wildfire in California did result in the loss of 65 structures, including 46 single-family homes.
Data like this is highlighted in an article in November’s NFPA Journal, which reviewed the recently released, “Large-Loss Fires in the United States,” report by NFPA Research.
A “large-loss fire” is defined as causing at least $10 million in property loss. For 2014, 25 such fires tallied approximately $654.3 million in property losses. The Journal article, written by report author Stephen G. Badger, notes that while these 25 fires accounted for just 0.002% of all fires, they caused 5.6% of all losses.
And, the article notes that over the past 10 years, 10 wildfires topped $100 million in property loss with one exceeding $1 billion. 2014 is the first time in a while that the highest direct property damage loss did not come from a wildfire.
Lopsided impacts like this are not foreign to wildfire. The U.S. Forest Service’s, “Rising Costs of Wildfire Operations,” August 2015 report notes that although 98% of wildfires are managed, the 1-2% mega-fires consume 30% or more of the agencies’ budget. These fires also see homes lost and lives at risk.
I caught up with Stephen, who is a fire data assistant in NFPA’s Fire Analysis and Research Division, and asked him about what struck him about wildfire when crafting the Large-Loss Fire report and the Journal article. He shared his observations that, "losses can vary widely, with small-size fires doing more damage than many wildfires that burn more acreage but do not cause losses to property. Examples could be a state and federal forest fire with no structures involved. That same fire in a timber or logging area could result in millions of dollars of loss to timber that was destroyed."
He went onto explain that, "wildfires can also burn over acres of grass, brush, or marshland and cause no dollar loss where the same fire may enter an urban area, destroying many structures (homes, businesses, and outbuildings) and infrastructure." In capturing the 2014 data, Stephen noted that, "several of the large wildfires that we report on are ‘fire complexes’, meaning there may be several small fires that burn into one large fire or burn in the same general area and are under one incident command. Tracking all these fires and reported on them can be a complicated process."
Read this and other wildfire focused articles in the current Nov/Dec 2015 edition of NFPA Journal and learn more about what you can do to make your home safer from wildfire.
Photo Credit: Getty Images, pulled from NFPA Journal, 25 Nov 15, http://www.nfpa.org/newsandpublications/nfpa-journal/2015/november-december-2015/features/large-loss-fires-2014
Chart Credit: pulled from NFPA Journal, 25 Nov 15, http://www.nfpa.org/newsandpublications/nfpa-journal/2015/november-december-2015/features/large-loss-fires-2014