Rain finally helped cool the wildfires that burned in Coloradofor nearly two weeks, but the threat of more fires throughout theUnited States persists as dry conditions have created plenty offuel for wildfires, according to Lamont Norman, global productmanager, Pitney Bowes Software.

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Norman saw first hand the damage caused by the Colorado wildfires from his home inBoulder.

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"The thing that drove these fires and made things more dramaticis the fact that the weather was so dry and so hot," he says. "Thehumidity was in the single digits and then you had lightningstrikes in the area."

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Colorado had a very dry winter and, according to Norman, theRocky Mountains were way behind traditional levels in snowpack.

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"Everything is dry, so while we might have a rain storm thatcomes through to suppress some existing fire activity, we are stilldry and we see that all across the western United States rightnow," he says.

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Norman manages the FireRisk Pro product from Pitney BowesSoftware that models wildfires. He reports that the fire models didwell, but adds that the unpredictability of theweather—particularly short-term weather patterns—exacerbates theconditions.

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"Areas we had as low risk did burn, but that was because it wasso dry," says Norman. "The overall wildfire risk may be at onerating in our model, but when the weather changes the fire dangerspiked up."

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Norman explains the FireRisk Pro product doesn't predict futureweather patterns, but analysts are able to monitor the weather andmodify the risk on a day-to-day basis if needed.

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"That's not related to the FireRisk Pro product, but it isrelated to our location intelligence capability of pulling in realtime and near real time information so an insurance company canknow that an area is extremely dry so wildfire danger is going tobe very high," says Norman.  

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The models rely on historical weather conditions and how thoseconditions influence wildfire risk.

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"That's more for catastrophe management as a way forunderwriters to look at situational exposure," says Norman."Underwriters are looking at the risk for the entire year; they'renot looking at whether the next four weeks are going to beextremely dry."

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Yet another reason for the widespread fire damage in Coloradowas the devastation done to the region's pine trees from the barkbeetle infestation, particularly near Fort Collins, Colo., wherethe High Park Fire was fueled by dead trees. Other factors includethe historic method of fighting wildfires through firesuppression.

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"The reason there is such a big tree kill is that for the last100 years we fought suppressed fires," says Norman. "What firenormally does is thin out the weaker trees. Now we have a dense,dead fuel source throughout the Rocky Mountain West area—especiallyin Colorado—and the trees are unable to fight off the bark beetles.This enables a higher fire risk, which we do account for in themodels."

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Wildfires have become a national risk, according to Norman, whopoints out that two months ago there were a number of wildfires onthe eastern seaboard from the south to the New York region.

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"The dryness definitely was a factor in that," he says. "As theclimate continues to dictate things, wildfires are an increasedrisk. We are seeing the climate is a factor in these fires andthere are more high-value structures near these wildland areas thatare more susceptible to fire."

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Norman believes it is difficult to predict the extent of awildfire.

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"Generally there is dryness where the fuels are," he says."That's one of the bigger static factors. That's what insurers workwith. They can't work with the weather patterns. Those are toounpredictable."

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Norman believes insurers are getting better at underwritingweather-related risks as they add people in the catastrophemodeling space that are trying to figure out if they can capitalizeon models from an underwriting and claims perspectives. 

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