Damaging and costly wildfires have risen to a nationwide issue that will require pre-fire risk mitigation to stem, according to a panel of experts.
“We are facing a wildfire crisis,” said Kimiko Barrett, Livingston, Montana-based lead wildfire research and policy analyst for Headwaters Economics, a Bozeman, Montana-based independent, nonprofit research group, during a panel discussion Monday at the annual conference of the American Property Casualty Insurance Association.
While some 98% of wildfires are suppressed, according to Ms. Barrett, “in doing so, we’re also preventing that wildfire from doing its ecological job,” of clearing dead underbrush and the like, leaving forests full of fuel for ever larger fires.
“It’s an environment like we’ve never seen,” said Kim McDonald-Weybright, Nashville, Tennessee-based head of risk management services for Private Client Select Insurance Services LLC, a specialist managing general agency formed in February by American International Group Inc. with backing from private-equity firm Stone Point Capital LLC.
Ms. McDonald-Weybright said there have already been more than 20 substantial fire-related disasters this year and her firm works with clients to educate them on fire prevention and risk mitigation.
Bryon Ehrhart, Chicago-based global head of strategic growth and development for Aon PLC, said this is a “new era” for wildfires. “Frequency is up; severity is up,” he said, adding that since 2017 there has been a withdrawal of wildfire reinsurance capacity, particularly in California, making it harder to reinsure a growing peril.
“This is a national problem. It will require federal action to solve,” said Tyson Bertone-Riggs, staff co-lead of the Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management Commission, established in December 2021 to help combat the nation’s wildfire crisis and improve landscape resilience.
Mr. Bertone-Riggs said any plan to mitigate and control wildfires must focus not just on suppression and response, but also pre-fire mitigation and risk mitigation in both built and natural environments.