The number of homes threatened by wildfire in Washington is projected to increase by nearly 30 percent by 2053, a new report from First Street Foundation shows.
The report, published this week, shows that Chelan County is among the 20 counties in the U.S. projected to experience the highest annual rate of wildfire-related damage over the next three decades.
As natural disaster-related destruction rates continue to rise across the state and nation, millions of properties are facing rising insurance rates and cancelled insurance policies.
Fire property damage risk increases the farther away you are from an urban Washington area, according to fire chief Brian Schaeffer.
A community insurance rating is a measure of a property’s ability to withstand fire damage. It’s a scale from 1 to 10 and is issued by the Washington Survey & Rating Bureau.
“Most cities, right now they’re around 2 or 3,” Schaeffer said.
This number appears to be significantly higher in rural areas of Washington, including many locations in eastern Washington — areas scientists have identified as “wildland urban interface zones.”
“Where there’s no career fire protection and there aren’t staffed stations or water supply, the insurance number goes up,” Schaeffer added.
Riskfactor.com was created by First Street. It’s a free, public search database online that shows information about the climate risks facing properties in a ZIP code area. For example, a search for the ZIP code “99201” yields results that show almost 2,000 properties in the city face a more than 26 percent likelihood of being severely impacted by a flood in the next three decades.
The online search tool shows properties in the city subject to “moderate” risks from fires, “high” risks from heat and “minimal” risks from wind.
According to a First Street report, nearly 5 million homes in the Western U.S. could face higher insurance rates or nonrenewal due to wildfire risk alone. Another 27 million homes in coastal wind zones could face insurance struggles.
The report found that an average of 17,000 buildings are expected to be destroyed each year due to environmental disasters by 2053, with an additional 34,000 structures expected to burn down annually due to wildfires.
First Street warned that natural disasters could lead to a housing bubble, which could result in people skimping on property insurance if they can’t afford it.
In some cases, the report found that property values have fallen below what buyers took out in financing from the start.
If homeowners can’t insure properties in high-risk areas with reasonably affordable policies, they won’t be able to afford to own homes in those areas, and property values will continue to decline.