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The Carr Fire Report: Emergency Catastrophe Response

Ryan Budd
August 14, 2018

Wildfire season is lasting longer and becoming more of a major cost driver for insurers in the U.S. Many adjusters and first responders use Temporary Accommodations for CAT relocation while on assignment, giving our CareTAkers first hand stories from both survivors and first responders. Even though there have been a smaller number of individual property-damaging wildfires in recent years, these traumatic catastrophes have been spreading faster and farther at dramatic rates. In 2017 the record for the most acres burned in the U.S. was almost broken. The December 2017 Thomas Fire was the largest in California’s state history until last week when the Mendocino Complex Fire grew to over 350,000 acres. Temporary Accommodations has been able to care for CAT teams and displaced families by making temporary housing arrangements for all corners of the insurance industry.

Over two million homes in California are currently at high risk of being damaged by multiple wildfires across the state. Many dense forests have grown around residential areas, logging restrictions have increased, and the region has experienced a dry summer. Last year around ten million acres of the United States were burned in wildfires, much of it in California and along the West Coast. On July 23rd The Carr Fire was started after a driver failed to notice sparks flying off a flat tire scraping across the road near Highway 299 and Carr Powerhouse Road. The fire’s proximity to Redding, California (with a population around 100,000) increased the severity of its destruction, as we similarly saw with The Tubbs Fire’s proximity to Santa Rosa, Napa, and Sonoma Valleys in October 2017.

During Total Loss assignments our team uses not only our relocation training, but also our traumatic stress management training, in order to maintain superior care and fast placement times with families. Our CareTAkers are counselors to the displaced, and work preemptively to reserve safe hotel accommodations when availability is scarce. In many cities the short-term housing market is symbiotic with the rental market. When an entire region has been burned, the inventory for both short and long-term rentals to use as a temporary home becomes depleted. Corporate apartments in California are similarly threatened, making mobile and on-site housing solutions the best option for some families returning to their property after a fire. We use our internal database to take find short-term rentals with pre-negotiated rates. Our long-standing partnerships with major hotel brands and on-site housing suppliers help us provide the most flexible short-term housing to displaced families.

Adjusters, like first responders, and even our CareTAkers can get burnt-out from dealing with disasters. The stories we face are tragic. The recent Carr Fire has already claimed six lives, three of them Firefighters. The Mendocino Complex Fire has killed one Firefighter, and last year the Tubbs Fire claimed eighteen. Every day and every night our housing teams are on the phone with families who have left everything behind except each other, after leaving their entire neighborhood on fire. In times like these our team prevents emotional burnout by revisiting success stories and sharing feedback from families we’ve assisted during previous catastrophes. A family assisted by our team during last year’s Thomas Fire in Ventura said, “TA seemed to understand the stress and urgency we felt about needing a home. The initial response was so quick we obtained housing the very first night.”

The Carr Fire is currently more than half contained and has been burning for more than three weeks. According to CAL FIRE Department of Forestry and Fire Protection it is now the eighth largest fire by size in California’s state history, and at least the sixth most destructive. Tracy McPherson, part of our CAT Response Team, and our Western Regional Account Manager, made the trip up to Redding, California to be a part of the catastrophe response effort. “While it’s difficult to witness what the residents of Redding and Shasta County are going through, being displaced, not knowing if their home is lost, the unhealthy air quality—it is heartening to see people banding together,” said Tracy. “Members of the community are reaching out to help others in any way they can by offering space in their own homes, giving care and shelter to animals, and donating their time and much needed supplies. There is an amazing response from the Firefighters from all over. The National Guard, Red Cross, and Salvation Army are all contributing to the disaster response. Property Adjusters and their partners, like us at Temporary Accommodations, are here in the middle of it all, assisting with claims and providing temporary housing options.”

At last count 1,077 homes have been destroyed because of The Carr Fire and more than 4,000 fire personnel have responded. The increase in the average size of wildfires in the U.S. is due to several reasons: warmer weather, denser forests, and drier summers, which all contribute to larger fires. Last year’s Thomas Fire in Ventura was the largest California Wildfire on record, burning over 280,000 acres until the River Fire and Ranch Fire in Mendocino joined early this month. According to the Department of Interior, ninety percent of wildfires are preventable in the United States. “When people are affected by catastrophe and they are devastated and overwhelmed and feeling completely helpless,” said Tracy, “it’s good to see this community jump in and to see resources start arriving from all over the country. In the face of tragedy, community is amazing.”