This FEMA photo taken Aug. 28, 2012, by Patricia Brach in Mannford, Okla., shows the aftermath of the Creek County wildfire there. Heat from the fire melted the glass in this car parked in the driveway of a burned-out home. (FEMA/Patricia Brach)

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The Rising Risk of Wildfires

Two recent reports warn they are an increasing threat both in the United States and abroad.

FEMA's authorization of funds to battle wildfires in a dozen U.S. states this year highlights the scope of this problem and also the real and potential costs of wildfires. The CoreLogic 2012 Wildfire Hazard Risk Report estimated more than 740,000 residences worth $136 billion in 13 states in the U.S. West are now at high or very high risk.

States with the greatest estimated exposure in dollar terms are California, Colorado, and Texas, according to the report, which is available free, with registration, at www.corelogic.com.

Charts in the report show the number of U.S. wildfires during the past five years has not been unusually high, but the land area burned by wildfires and the average number of structures they destroy has been increasing. In five of the past eight years, 2004-2011, wildfires burned more than 8 million acres.

One of the most recent wildfires to prompt action by the Federal Emergency Management Agency was the Table Mountain Fire in Washington state's Kittitas and Chelan counties. FEMA Acting Regional Administrator Sharon Loper on Sept. 19 authorized the use of federal funds to help with firefighting costs when she approved the state's request for a federal Fire Management Assistance Grant. FEMA reports the fire started Sept.8 and had burned approximately 20,000 acres of federal and private land, threatening 416 homes, at the time of the request.

The authorization makes FEMA money available to pay 75 percent of Washington eligible firefighting costs. The grants don't provide assistance to individuals, homeowners, or business owners, however. These grants help with fighting fires that threaten to cause a major disaster, according to the agency.

Roughly two months before CoreLogic released its report, a report by Lloyd's predicted almost all of North American and most of Europe will experience more wildfire in coming years. This document cited recent wildfires in Colorado, Texas, Russia, Greece, and Chile and a report from climate scientists at the University of California, Berkeley and Texas Tech University in predicting insurers will face new challenges from wildfires in many parts of the world. The higher risk to North America and most of Europe results mainly from rising temperature trends, according to a Lloyd's expert.

About the Author

Jerry Laws is Editor of Occupational Health & Safety magazine, which is owned by 1105 Media Inc.

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