Hundreds of homes have been destroyed as firefighters, National Guardsmen and other authorities work to contain a cluster of wildfires that is threatening residential structures across a wide swath of land in Washington state. About 20 counties have reportedly been placed under a state of emergency due to the windy conditions that have been causing wildfires to spread rapidly.
A period of lower temperatures and a break in the intense winds that have been whipping up the flames helped local authorities make progress in containing the wildfires raging in the area. However, the threat to local communities remains very serious.
CNN aired footage of the burned area, including damaged structures, that was taken by a drone. This blog has previously looked at how officials are increasingly interested in the possibility of using drones to combat wildfires. Being able to gain visibility into a fire without placing human pilots or firefighters in danger can provide a significant boost to containment efforts. But even armed with information and supported by multiple helicopters, crews are still struggling to get the fires under control.
Okanogan County Chief Sheriff's Deputy David Rodriguez told NBC News that "Every 10 minutes or so another house is going up." He called the situation "unprecedented" for the state. He doesn't seem to be exaggerating. According to the Seattle Times, the Okanogan County fire is the largest in the state's history.
Governor Jay Inslee has reportedly called for additional help from the National Guard, telling the Associated Press that he could see the threat from the current spate of fires stretching on for days or even weeks.
Even after the fires are fully contained, people and structures will still face an elevated level of risk for some time to come. National Weather Service meteorologist Ryan Fliehman told the Seattle Times that, with vegetation burned away on many slopes, the risk of flash floods and mudslides is significantly higher.
California has also faced an ongoing threat from wildfires this year, with some observers remarking that there has essentially been a continuation of the 2013 wildfire season with no real break between the two. While fire departments and other public safety agencies bear the greatest burden as a result of these developments, property owners and insurance carriers also have a growing responsibility to be prepared.
To be ready for what lies ahead, insurers can implement a single valuation system capable of providing accurate replacement cost estimates for any type and size residential property, as well as commercial and farm & ranch structures.