AM Best

Best’s Briefing: California Wildfires: The New Normal?


Jason Hopper
Associate Director –
Industry Research and Analytics
+1 908 439 2200, ext. 5016

Sridhar Manyem
Director, Industry Research
and Analytics
+1 908 439 2200, ext. 5612
Christopher Sharkey
Manager, Public Relations
(908) 439 2200, ext. 5159

Jim Peavy
Director, Public Relations
(908) 439 2200, ext. 5644


OLDWICK - AUGUST 08, 2018 03:35 PM (EDT)
As housing development has ramped up in more rural areas and wildlands in California, the resulting wildfire threat for insurers has continued to grow, according to a new A.M. Best briefing.

The Best’s Briefing, “Wildfires: The New Normal?” notes that 45 of the 58 counties in California have experienced population growth since 2012. Given the already heightened construction demand from the wildfire losses in 2017 and a favorable housing market, the continued demand for construction labor and materials following the current Carr wildfire in northern California may lead to higher insured losses. Ultimately, 2018 may produce greater losses for insurers compared with 2017. Compounding the wildfire risk, 12 of the last 19 years in California have seen below-average precipitation. The combination of longer sustained higher temperatures along with less frequent rainfall heightens the risk of fire.

For homeowners and farmowners writers in California, direct losses incurred nearly quadrupled to $16.0 billion in 2017, compared with $4.2 billion in 2016, mainly due to the 2017 fire season. In addition, the 10 largest premium writers in California posted a direct loss & adjustment expense ratio in 2017 that was also nearly four times higher than was reported in 2016 on average.

Insurers will need to re-evaluate wildfire risks in California, given that the highly destructive current and 2017 wildfires predominantly are occurring or did occur in areas classified as low to moderate risk. A.M. Best believes insurers’ risk-scoring models likely need adjusting with more improved loss-reduction strategies put into place to reflect this new normal. The California wildfires demonstrate the essential role insurers play in the economy during catastrophe-filled times and underscore the need for prudence in capital and risk management. A working partnership between homeowners and insurers can lead to enhanced risk mitigation strategies to manage an increasingly destructive trend.

To access the full copy of this briefing, please visit .

A.M. Best is a global rating agency and information provider with a unique focus on the insurance industry.