San Diego damage estimates


The news is starting to read like the SoCal wildfires are winding down - at least a few of the fires are still going strong, but some of the early major burns are contained or over.

I was asked the other day what I thought this would do to insurance rates for the rest of us, as the insurers spread their losses. More, or less, than Katrina? Well, the average home destroyed in the California fires is probably worth a lot more than the average home destroyed by Katrina, but the concentrated urban buying power effect kicks in with impressive scale. Let's get the numbers from the sick-fascination-with-train-wrecks department:

Tracking the Thirstbelt fires

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You can track wildfire size and containment status on InciWeb, a US Forest Service aggregator from various Federal agency databases. They additionally provide a Google Earth feed of fire data. However, I think it's still somewhat incomplete, since it lists only 162,000 acres in 7 active incidents in California, while the media is variously reporting numbers as high as 600,000 acres in 12 fires.

The question is why we insist on calling this a "natural disaster". Fire is good (and necessary) for many natural ecosystems - it's just bad for humans. Additionally, we generally wouldn't think the fire was a problem if there weren't humans in the way. Pop quiz: How many active forest fires are there in Montana right now? (Answer: 16 listed in InciWeb.) How many acres do they cover? (Answer: 411,000.) In Montana, it's not a "natural disaster", it's just natural. And, guess what, it's natural in California, as well. But because humans have gone and put themselves in the way of a (very predictable) natural phenomenon, it becomes a human disaster.

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