Oklahoma has zero homes at “very high risk” for wildfires, and just 80 at “high risk,” the lowest among 13 Western states studied in a new report for the insurance industry — statistically speaking.
Santa Ana, Calif.-based property information-analytics firm CoreLogic released its first Wildfire Hazard Risk Report this week. It identified 740,000 residences at high or very high risk for wildfire damage at an estimated value of $136 billion.
The study found 57,385 homes in Oklahoma at moderate risk and 110,153 homes at low risk for wildfire damage.
CoreLogic estimated the value of homes at high risk at $6.8 million, moderate risk at $5.6 billion, and low risk at $10.8 billion.
Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner John Doak was on the road Tuesday and not available for an interview, spokesman Brian King said.
Oklahoma has seen 150,000 acres burn and lost some 600 homes to wildfire this year alone, CoreLogic noted, quoting figures from the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho.
Nonetheless, the firm counted zero Oklahoma homes at “very high risk” and just 80 at “high risk” based on the way it categorizes urban and agricultural settings. The lack of natural fuels in both urban and agricultural landscapes gives them “low wildfire risk,” the firm said.
However, CoreLogic also developed wildfire risk scores based on a combination of risk inside individual property boundaries and their distance from higher wildfire risk zones. Scores range from 1 to 100, with higher numbers indicating “increased opportunity of wildfire.”
Under its scoring system, CoreLogic counted 1,077,998 homes ranked 1-50 and valued at $95.5 billion; 707 homes ranked 51-60 and valued at $52.5 million; 1,007 homes ranked 61-80 and valued at $72.3 million; and 381 homes ranked 81-100 and valued at $28.2 million.
Developed wild lands
“Homes located within a city boundary are not safe from the threat of wildfire destruction. In fact, the unprecedented growth of urban areas over the past 50 years has generally increased the likelihood homes will be damaged by wildfire activity,” CoreLogic's Howard Botts said in a news release. “As residential development has expanded into formerly undeveloped wild lands, the transitional area between the two, known as the wildfire urban interface, has become exceptionally vulnerable to wildfire.”
Some 40 percent of homes in the U.S. are in such transitional areas, Botts said, “and windblown embers are capable of igniting homes located hundreds or even thousands of feet away from an actual fire.”
Despite the losses and the eruption of widespread fires the past few years, CoreLogic noted that Oklahoma isn't known for significant numbers of wildfires.
Drought and wind
Drought and high winds, however, are creating risk here that can't be ignored, according to the firm, which studied Oklahoma, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Wyoming and Washington.
The combination of drought and wind in Oklahoma “underscores the importance of evaluating wildfire risk in areas with less active histories that tend to be overlooked,” CoreLogic said in the report, dated Aug. 23. “It is as yet unknown what the total amount of insured losses will be, but given the extent and extreme nature of the current fires, the 2012 wildfires in Oklahoma may well be the worst in state history.”
Incidentally, CoreLogic's study period ended the day after the Federal Emergency Management Agency approved assistance for homeowners in Creek County but did not extend aid to homeowners in Oklahoma, Cleveland and Payne counties. Wildfires destroyed hundreds of homes in those areas July 28-Aug. 14.
Doak called the rejections “bureaucratic” and “cruel” and noted that 227 of the destroyed homes were in the counties where aid was denied. Gov. Mary Fallin formally appealed FEMA's decision last Thursday.
“Firefighters throughout our state have done a tremendous job protecting as many homes as possible,” Doak said Tuesday in a prepared statement. “Still, the last several weeks have been very difficult in terms of wildfires. I've seen the hardest-hit areas firsthand. With most of our state still in ‘extreme' or ‘exceptional' drought conditions, all Oklahomans must continue to be prepared for wildfires and learn how to protect themselves through Firewise and other educational programs.”
Understanding wildfire risk is important for lessening the impact of disaster, Botts said.
“Accurately identifying risk levels, even in areas where wildfire activity has historically been low, is imperative to mitigating the potentially devastating effect of fires to property and on human life,” Botts said.