NU Online News Service, Sept. 6, 3:11 p.m. EDT
A week of brushfires across the state of Texas has claimed more than 1,000 homes, and insurance losses are expected to be in the millions of dollars, according to officials.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry says fires have claimed more than 3.6 million acres since the start of the wildfire season in April.
The governor says that in the past seven days the state’s forest service has responded to 181 fires burning 118,400 acres.
“This one is as mean-looking as I’ve ever seen,” Perry says during a press conference.
He says the size of the fires so far this year is equal to the state of Connecticut. “I don’t think we’ve seen a wildfire season like this.”
Jerry Johns, president of the Southwestern Insurance Information Service in Austin, Texas, says the worst of the fire is in Bastrop County.
One principal area of loss is Steiner Ranch, a bedroom community west of Austin, he notes. Residents will be allowed back into the area this afternoon just to survey the damage.
Claims adjusters have not yet been allowed into the affected areas, but Johns says the insurance losses are anticipated to be in the “millions and millions of dollars, but how much it will be is impossible to project at this point.”
While the fires are still raging, winds are beginning to die down, making it a little easier for firefighters to control the blaze, says Johns. Over the weekend, sustained winds of 20-30 mph from Tropical Storm Lee invaded Texas, making it difficult for firefighters to make much headway, he adds.
“There’s a lot of hope in sight” that the fires will soon be under control, says Johns.
According to the Insurance Information Institute, the most catastrophic wildfire in history was the Oakland, Calif. fire in 1991 that cost insurers $2.5 billion in 2010 dollars.
As for insurers, Farmers says in a statement that it has set up an insurance mobile command center in Bastrop for customers and non-customers alike. It also has a customer-care vehicle in Steiner Ranch.
Risk Management Solutions notes that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Climate Data Center says that Texas is experiencing the driest year on record. July was also the warmest month on record for the state going back to 1895. Both factors are cited as contributing to the fires.
This story was updated with the last paragraph at 3:54 p.m.