AccuWeather predicts 2018 wildfires will cost California total economic losses of $400 billion

By Dr. Joel N. Myers, AccuWeather Founder and CEO
November 24, 2018, 9:27:02 PM EST

AccuWeather is making the extraordinary prediction that the total economic loss to the state of California due to the historic and damaging wildfires, when we tabulate everything, will be $400 billion as a result of the 2018 fires, making it the most expensive natural disaster in the history of the United States. This is four-tenths of a trillion dollars or equivalent to 2 percent of the nation's GDP, which is approximately $20 trillion, the total output of all goods and services. This is a huge economic loss and is made up of the total loss of value in property, values, taxes, lost jobs and wages, lost business and importantly by the significant health impacts of the particulate pollution resulting from the fires. Breathing in smoke and particulate pollution can lead to many ongoing health hazards, especially for those with respiratory illnesses or weakened immune systems. Unfortunately, those with preexisting conditions, such as weakened lungs and immune systems, may face deteriorating health, hospitalization or even premature death.

Interestingly, the total loss nationwide we estimate at $350 billion because we calculate that ultimately there will be at $50 billion net gain to states surrounding California as people migrate out of California into those surrounding states which will lead to a drop in real estate values and taxes in California and a subsequent increase in real estate values, taxes collected and jobs in surrounding states.

The cost to fight these fires this year is an all-time record. The state is going to spend $1 billion or more just on fighting these fires. Never in the past has the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spent more than $773 million, which was the cost last year. This is an all-time record on fire suppression.

ap fire

Residences leveled by the Camp Fire line a cul-de-sac in Paradise, Calif., on Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

With recovery efforts lasting more than a week and over 800 people still missing, we expect the California fire death toll to rise to several hundred. While many of the people who were initially missing in the hurricanes were ultimately found, we do not believe that will be the case with the wildfires. Unfortunately, the ultimate death toll will reach several hundred.

AccuWeather predicts enough rain will arrive to help containment efforts of the fires by this Friday, Nov. 23, 2018. Every last fire will not be extinguished, but most of them will be under control. We expect the total acres damaged by wildfires in the U.S. to be 9 million in 2018, which is about in line with the acreage burned last year; however, the fires this year have caused more damage and loss of life than previous years because of where they occurred.

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While some sources have implied it has been dry in California for a long time, there actually was a good bit of rain the last couple of years which allowed for vegetation growth and ultimately that created more fuel for this year's fires. The rainfall has allowed for vegetation growth and thus has created more fuel for fires. Controlled burns and forest management and restoration projects do not occur at the scale they used to - in part due to fire suppression costs and how they are allocated. This actually set the stage for greater fires and more losses.

Because of the substantial land areas that have been cleared of vegetation by the record fires last year and this year, some areas of California now face the risk for serious mudslides as the normal winter rainfall season sets in. In fact, AccuWeather is predicting significantly more and larger mudslides than usual which will cause more highways to be closed, impeding travel and causing further disruptions to the California economy

Mudslides will begin to set into Northern California in the next week and then spread into central and Southern California over the next 30 days, continuing throughout the rainy season which lasts into March. These areas will also be susceptible to flash floods and landslides during next winter’s rainy season as deep-rooted vegetation slowly becomes re-established in the areas burned by the wildfires. This extended risk of flooding and landslides could add to the overall economic toll of the historic wildfires in 2018.

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