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article imageTwo Northern California wildfires caused $1 billion in damage

By Nathan Salant     Jan 29, 2016 in Environment
San Francisco - Insurers expect to pay out $1 billion in losses to California property owners from the Valley and Butte fires in September that killed six people and damaged more than 2,500 structures.
Both fires, which burned a combined 150,000 acres in Northern California, rank among the most destructive wildfires in state history, according to the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper.
The worst of the blazes, the Valley Fire, which damaged nearly 2,000 buildings in Lake, Napa and Sonoma counties, was the third worst fire ever in California.
The Valley Fire, which started Sept. 12 in the Lake County town of Cobb and was not contained until Oct. 6, caused $700 million in insured losses, the state Dept. of Insurance said last week.
Damage from the Butte Fire, which burned from Sept. 9 to Oct. 1, killed two and damaged more than 800 structures in Amador and Calaveras counties, was pegged at an additional $300 million in losses, state officials said.
The $1 billion figure does not include damage to public infrastructure such as roads and utilities.
"The Valley and Butte fires were sober reminders of the dangers residents can face in rural areas of the state," state Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones said in a written statement.
Jones said Californians must accept the new reality that wildfires pose a year-round hazard rather than a seasonal threat like before.
"Residents and communities, especially those in high-risk fire areas, must take precautions now before the next devastating wildfire strikes," he said.
Damage from the 2015 fires was exacerbated by years of drought, which appear to have ended with heavy rains and mountain snowfalls this winter.
So far, insurers have paid out more than $500 million from more than 5,000 claims for residential and commercial claims, and expect another $500 million to be paid out when all claims are processed.
Loss estimates could go even higher if many more claims are submitted, but state officials said most damage claims have probably been submitted.
Officials said the solvency of the insurance industry is not likely to be impacted by the losses, the newspaper said.
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