The ongoing drought in the western United States is putting many lives and properties at risk. In recent months, many parts of the state have received less than half of their normal rainfall. AccuWeather's western weather expert, Ken Clark, explained that even if precipitation levels return to normal, the region's warm, dry climate will "keep the fire danger elevated in California indefinitely into the summer."
Steady coastal winds exacerbate the threat by stirring up the flames and making it difficult to predict how fast they will spread and in what direction. Relative to the five-year average, 2014 has seen double the number of fires and acres burned so far. Several suspected arsonists have been arrested in connection with recent fires, although most of the danger stems from natural causes.
According to the Associated Press, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection moved staffing levels to their peak during the first week of April, more than a month earlier than usual. Additionally, fire departments in the hardest-hit areas of the state have had to call for reinforcements from other municipalities. Kern County Fire Department battalion chief Kirk Kushen told reporters that this year has essentially been "a continuation" of the 2013 fire season.
"Normally, I don't even put wildfire gear in my vehicle until the end of April, Kushen said. "This year I never took it out."
In a recent interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos, California Governor Jerry Brown noted that the state is more densely settled than at any point in its history. With more residential, commercial and agricultural structures, the risk of insured losses is much greater any time there is a wildfire. Brown said he believes the state may need more firefighters to keep the situation under control.
"We're getting ready for the worst," he said. "Now, we don't want to anticipate before we know, but we need a full compliment of firefighting capacity. We've already appropriated $600 million. We have 5,000 firefighters. We're going to need thousands more. And in the years to come, we're going to have to make very expensive investments and adjust."
Emergency response services are not the only stakeholders that need to adapt to the increased risk from wildfires. Insurance carriers also need to prepare themselves for the inevitable waves of claims that will follow when there is widespread property destruction.
Using a web-based replacement cost estimator can help insurers by providing accurate replacement costs and improving collaboration with inspection companies by identifying structures that require additional attention.