Colorado leads country for share of homes most vulnerable to wildfires

Colorado leads country for share of homes most vulnerable to wildfires

31 July 2014

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USA — It is raining hard in Colorado this summer, but for many homeowners in the state, wildfire danger remains ever present.

More than 200,000 Colorado homes are highly vulnerable to wildfires, according to a proprietary scale developed by CoreLogic, a California-based provider of real estate and financial information.

That represents more than one out of 10 Colorado homes, the highest ratio found in any state. The value of those high-risk homes is estimated at $38.2 billion.

The next-most-exposed states are Montana, at 9.1 percent of homes, and Oregon, at 8 percent. In dollar terms, Texas and California have the most property vulnerable to wildfire.

“There are three states that stand out among the rest for wildfires: California, Colorado and Texas,” said Thomas Jeffery, a senior hazard scientist with CoreLogic.

CoreLogic has developed a proprietary scale that runs from 1 to 100. Homes rated 1 to 50 are unlikely to ever see damage from a wildfire, and 78 percent of homes in Colorado fall into that category.

By itself, a ranking doesn’t determine probability, but many insurers use Core-Logic’s risk score to help determine whether they will insure a property, what premiums to charge and what mitigation efforts are needed.

Initially, CoreLogic used a category system of low, moderate, high and very high wildfire risk. But the company came to realize that even low or moderate risk areas can suffer severe damage if they are too close to high-risk areas, resulting in the risk scale.

“Waldo Canyon was a good example,” Jeffery said. “We had urban-edge properties that would have been considered low risk, and yet the homes burned.”

The Waldo Canyon fire raced along the west side of Colorado Springs during the summer of 2012 and consumed 346 homes.

CoreLogic looks at a variety of factors to determine a score, including the amount of fuel available to feed a fire, the direction a property is facing, the slope it is on, elevation and the fire history in the surrounding area.

Colorado’s recent fires have allowed CoreLogic to test the strength of its scoring system and to improve on it.

For example, of the 486 structures burned in last year’s Black Forest fire, 97 percent had a risk score of 81 or higher, according to CoreLogic.

Other Western states, including Idaho, lose more acreage to wildfires each year than Colorado does. But a growing population that has pushed homes into more vulnerable areas is resulting in higher property losses when fires do occur, Jeffery said.

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