California fires looking as costly as hurricane at US$19 Billion

(AFP Pic)

The most destructive series of wildfires in California history could cost the state, insurers and homeowners at least US$19 billion in damages, as firefighters struggled to gain control in swirling winds across vast swaths of the state.

The carnage caused by fires north of San Francisco and near Los Angeles could be on par with the type of destruction triggered by Hurricane Michael, which left Florida in disarray earlier this year, said Chuck Watson, a disaster modeler at Enki Research who pegged the hurricane’s damages at some US$25 billion.

Sonoma County Sheriff Robert Giordano told reporters Sunday that the Camp Fire, which charred the town of Paradise in Northern California, and the Woolsey Fire, in suburban LA, have already killed 31 residents. They’ve torched more than 6,700 structures.

“The California fires are as bad as folks think they are,” Watson said. “Insurance for fire is already becoming an issue in California and this won’t help that industry.”

Weather forecasters are predicting more winds for California and no sign of the seasonal rain that typically dampens the brush in Northern California in time to prevent such disasters. Instead, some 250,000 people have already fled their homes across the state, including in Malibu, the coastal enclave of the rich and famous. Some 149,000 people remain evacuated, Mark Ghilarducci, director of California’s Office of Emergency Services, said Sunday.

Governor Jerry Brown formally asked President Donald Trump to release new federal aid in a “major disaster declaration.’’ The request for emergency funding to support housing, crisis management and infrastructure recovery efforts came a day after Trump threatened to withhold federal payments to California.

“We’re putting everything we’ve got into the fight against these fires, and this request ensures communities on the front lines get additional federal aid,” Brown said in a written statement.Initially, Trump had threatened to withhold money because of what he called “gross mismanagement of the forests.” His later tweets were more measured, saying that “our hearts are with those fighting the fires.” On Sunday, Trump tweeted again to encourage “proper” management to “stop the devastation constantly going on in California.”

Donald J. Trump @realDonaldTrump More than 4,000 are fighting the Camp and Woolsey Fires in California that have burned over 170,000 acres. Our hearts are with those fighting the fires, the 52,000 who have evacuated, and the families of the 11 who have died. The destruction is catastrophic. God Bless them all.