Valley fire damage likely to surpass $1.5 billion

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The Valley fire that ravaged parts of Lake County last month caused more than $1.5 billion in economic losses, making it the costliest wildfire since 2007 and one of the largest in the state’s history, according to a preliminary estimate.

Insured losses from the fire that was sparked on Sept. 12 and not fully contained until Oct. 6 will likely exceed $925 million, according to preliminary estimates in a report by Aon Benfield, a division of global insurance giant Aon PLC.

The fire destroyed 1,958 structures, according to Cal Fire, including 1,280 homes, 27 multi-family structures, 66 commercial properties and 585 other minor structures. Economic losses also include numerous cars and personal property that were damaged or destroyed as a result of the fast-moving blaze, which killed four people and injured four firefighters.

“I would expect the insured loss to probably move up as more assessment is made,” said Steve Bowen, associate director at Aon Benfield.

In addition, damage to infrastructure and government property, along with other miscellaneous costs, will total at least $575 million, according to the estimate.

For example, Lake County has paid out $366,000 in overtime to county workers as a result of the fire, Lake County Supervisor Rob Brown said Wednesday. The county’s overall budget is $200 million.

The preliminary numbers would place the Valley fire as the fifth most damaging U.S. wildfire in terms of estimated insured losses and the biggest since the 2007 Witch fire outside San Diego, which left $1.4 billion in insured losses, according to the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America.

The most expensive fire is still the 1991 Oakland Hills fire, which resulted in $2.7 billion in insured losses to the heavily-populated East Bay area.

“These are initial estimates. It takes time to really understand cost,” said Nicole Mahrt, a spokeswoman for the insurers’ association. “These are very significant events.”

Lake County officials are currently focusing on cleanup from the fire and ensuring there is sufficient temporary housing for displaced residents so they can focus on rebuilding, Brown said.

One major concern is that residents, especially renters, who cannot find temporarily housing may become discouraged and opt to live elsewhere, further hurting the economy around Middletown and other nearby areas that suffered significant damage, Brown said.

“We want people shopping in Cobb and Middletown,” he said.

Brown already has a list of projects for consideration as the county works to secure federal and state aid — including matching funds — to rebuild around the Cobb area that suffered the greatest damage. It includes a upgrade to the water system in Cobb. Brown noted that only 12 houses in the Cobb area had a sprinkler system, which is mandated for new single-family homes under a 2011 state regulation. The 300 to 400 homes that could be rebuilt in that area will now have to have such sprinkler systems, which would necessitate an upgrade in piping for the area’s water system.

“We only have one chance to do this right,” Brown said.

In addition, a $10 million sewer system for Cobb and a $3 million sewer system for Anderson Springs are on the table, he said. Projects to widen roads to avoid one-way passages are also being considered, especially as such routes made it difficult and dangerous to evacuate residents during the fire.

Some entities have been helpful in the rebuilding, with Brown specifically noting Pacific Gas & Electric’s work in replacing power lines and about 800 downed poles.

For complete wildfire coverage go to:

You can reach Staff Writer Bill Swindell at 521-5223 or On Twitter @BillSwindell.

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