California’s Deadly Wildfires, By the Numbers

These seven figures demonstrate the severity of the horrific wildfires that broke-out in California on November 8th. And as of today (November 16th), the fires are only 48% contained.
By: | November 15, 2018 • 2 min read

As of Nov. 16, there are 15 active wildfires blazing across California, but containment efforts are centered on the Camp, Woolsey and Hill Fires, all of which broke out on Nov. 8. The numbers are jarring, both for the loss of lives and property and for the overall risks that wildfires continue to present for the economy and the insurance industry.

50+ Lives

As of Nov. 15, 56 fatalities had been confirmed in relation to the Camp Fire, and an additional 2 related to the Woolsey Fire. At least 130 people remain unaccounted for. At least 29 people died in Los Angeles’ Griffith Park fire on Oct. 3, 1933. It was the deadliest wildfire in state history until the Camp Fire surpassed that number on Nov. 12.

$19-$25 Billion

The Camp and Woolsey Fires could cost the state, insurers and homeowners at least $19 billion in damage, Bloomberg reports. But disaster modeler Chuck Watson from Enki Research told the news agency that damage total of up to $25 billion was  possible.


For comparison, 2017 California wildfire event losses topped $12 billion and 2017 global wildfire losses totaled $17 billion. 2018 will be the fourth consecutive year that wildfire-related insurance payouts will exceed $1 billion.

237,151 Acres

The combined acreage of scorched earth from the Camp, Woolsey and Hill fires is 240,893 as of Nov. 15, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire). That’s larger than the cities of Chicago and Boston combined. It’s difficult to predict what the final acreage count will be, with the Camp Fire only 35 percent contained, and the Woolsey fire just reached 50 percent on Nov. 15.

8,345 Structures

The Camp and Woolsey Fires have destroyed 9,154 residential and commercial structures thus far, and damaged an additional 86, according to Cal Fire data. 94 percent of the destruction is connected to the Camp Fire. Cal Fire reports that an additional 72,500 structures remain at risk from the two fires.

82 Million People

Experts are predicting that the smoke from these wildfires will negatively affect air quality and people’s health — both as we speak and in the decades to come. According to a model of an environmental epidemiologist, some 82 million people will experience more smoke, and more so-called “smoke waves,” in California, Oregon and the Great Plains, reports the Washington Post.

500 in 30

500 fires in one month: California firefighters have battled more than 500 blazes in the past 30 days, said Cal Fire, the state’s forestry and fire protection agency. In just the past week, more than 225,000 acres burned. That’s larger than the cities of Chicago and Boston combined.

60% of New Dwellings

Since 1990, 60 percent of new homes in California, Washington and Oregon have been built in the Wildland-Urban Interface, according to report by Headwaters Economics. Property in these areas is particularly susceptible to fire hazard given proximity to the forest and wildfire embers.

Without so many homes being constructed in this vulnerable zone, “we would still have the fires. But we wouldn’t have this kind of devastation,” Alice Hill said to Bloomberg on Nov. 14. Hill is a senior adviser for climate resilience to President Barack Obama.&

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]

4 Companies That Rocked It by Treating Injured Workers as Equals; Not Adversaries

The 2018 Teddy Award winners built their programs around people, not claims, and offer proof that a worker-centric approach is a smarter way to operate.
By: | October 30, 2018 • 3 min read

Across the workers’ compensation industry, the concept of a worker advocacy model has been around for a while, but has only seen notable adoption in recent years.

Even among those not adopting a formal advocacy approach, mindsets are shifting. Formerly claims-centric programs are becoming worker-centric and it’s a win all around: better outcomes; greater productivity; safer, healthier employees and a stronger bottom line.


That’s what you’ll see in this month’s issue of Risk & Insurance® when you read the profiles of the four recipients of the 2018 Theodore Roosevelt Workers’ Compensation and Disability Management Award, sponsored by PMA Companies. These four programs put workers front and center in everything they do.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top,” said Steve Legg, director of risk management for Starbucks.

Starbucks put claims reporting in the hands of its partners, an exemplary act of trust. The coffee company also put itself in workers’ shoes to identify and remove points of friction.

That led to a call center run by Starbucks’ TPA and a dedicated telephonic case management team so that partners can speak to a live person without the frustration of ‘phone tag’ and unanswered questions.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top.” — Steve Legg, director of risk management, Starbucks

Starbucks also implemented direct deposit for lost-time pay, eliminating stressful wait times for injured partners, and allowing them to focus on healing.

For Starbucks, as for all of the 2018 Teddy Award winners, the approach is netting measurable results. With higher partner satisfaction, it has seen a 50 percent decrease in litigation.

Teddy winner Main Line Health (MLH) adopted worker advocacy in a way that goes far beyond claims.

Employees who identify and report safety hazards can take credit for their actions by sending out a formal “Employee Safety Message” to nearly 11,000 mailboxes across the organization.

“The recognition is pretty cool,” said Steve Besack, system director, claims management and workers’ compensation for the health system.

MLH also takes a non-adversarial approach to workers with repeat injuries, seeing them as a resource for identifying areas of improvement.

“When you look at ‘repeat offenders’ in an unconventional way, they’re a great asset to the program, not a liability,” said Mike Miller, manager, workers’ compensation and employee safety for MLH.

Teddy winner Monmouth County, N.J. utilizes high-tech motion capture technology to reduce the chance of placing new hires in jobs that are likely to hurt them.

Monmouth County also adopted numerous wellness initiatives that help workers manage their weight and improve their wellbeing overall.

“You should see the looks on their faces when their cholesterol is down, they’ve lost weight and their blood sugar is better. We’ve had people lose 30 and 40 pounds,” said William McGuane, the county’s manager of benefits and workers’ compensation.


Do these sound like minor program elements? The math says otherwise: Claims severity has plunged from $5.5 million in 2009 to $1.3 million in 2017.

At the University of Pennsylvania, putting workers first means getting out from behind the desk and finding out what each one of them is tasked with, day in, day out — and looking for ways to make each of those tasks safer.

Regular observations across the sprawling campus have resulted in a phenomenal number of process and equipment changes that seem simple on their own, but in combination have created a substantially safer, healthier campus and improved employee morale.

UPenn’s workers’ comp costs, in the seven-digit figures in 2009, have been virtually cut in half.

Risk & Insurance® is proud to honor the work of these four organizations. We hope their stories inspire other organizations to be true partners with the employees they depend on. &

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]