How can the real estate industry help wildfire victims in California?

Northern California broker asks others who have been through fires to reach out and offer advice

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More than a dozen wildfires are currently burning through California, headlined by the destructive Carr Fire in Shasta and Trinity counties, and the Ferguson Fire in Mariposa County. Both destructive blazes have taken multiple lives.

It is pure chaos,” said Jamie Anderson, the founder and owner of the Shasta County-based Avenue Real Estate Co. “It looks like a war zone. Everything is disheveled. Nothing is in place.”

California Governor Jerry Brown, on Wednesday, held a news conference and told reporters that wildfires could cost the state billions of dollars over the next decade, according to a news report from the Los Angeles Times.

State sources have confirmed to the LA Times that more than 13,000 firefighters are currently battling 16 large fires in the state. The blazes have burned a total of 320,000 acres and displaced more than 32,000 residents, according to the LA Times.

The Carr Fire, as of noon on Aug. 1, was approximately 35 percent contained, according to California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire), but its destruction is startling. The fire has spread over 115,538 acres and destroyed more than 1,000 homes and threatened more than 2,000 structures overall. The death toll from the fire currently stands at six, including two firefighting personnel.

The Ferguson Fire, smaller by comparison, has also resulted in the death of two firefighting personnel, according to the Governor’s Office of California. It has burned 62,883 acres and is 39 percent contained, according to Cal Fire.

Anderson and her family were displaced by the fire for three days, but they were able to get back into their home on Tuesday. She’s spent part of her time running supplies like water to clients and members of the community and the rest of the time trying to find them a place to live.

“The immediate need is more not having enough supply of places to stay,” Anderson said.

In the past three days, she’s received 45 calls from people in search of rentals due to destroyed homes.

“These are people that have nothing — literally not a backpack on their backs,” Anderson said. “They have nothing left.”

The lack of rental housing has forced members of the real estate community to get creative. She said she’s gone to homeowners with vacant homes on the market that they’re trying to sell and asked if they would be interested in renting the property out for the next six months instead. She’s even been helping people find recreational vehicles to sleep in temporarily.

How can the real estate community help?

Anderson said her biggest need is for real estate professionals who have been through similar disasters to reach out to others in the industry to offer their advice.

“Reach out to us agents if [you’ve] gone through something similar,” Anderson said. “I think the experience from other areas is needed because we don’t know certain things that they do. Unfortunately, they’ve had to go through this and so have we, and it kind of connects us together to learn from their mishap.”

Anderson told Inman there’s so much unknown — what will happen to the market? Will there be looters? Will there be price gouging?

Donating items isn’t always helpful during a disaster, according to a report from the Sacramento Bee, but the northern California local paper does say that cash donations are helpful.

The Shasta Regional Community Foundation currently has a fundraising page, which promises 100 percent of donations will go toward recovery efforts and even spells out how the money will be distributed.

CoreLogic announces new wildfire risk assessment tools

Meanwhile, CoreLogic is taking a different tack to help the industry handle wildfires. On Tuesday, the property information and analytics company announced a new update to its risk assessment tools to account for the havoc that wildfires are wreaking on the housing market. The updated tool also features a severe convective storm model, an update to the inland flood model.

“Historically, property insurers have been unable to accurately analyze the true impact of wildfire, flood and severe convective storm damages because they lacked consistent and complete data,” said Staci Wellentin, vice president of product management for CoreLogic.

The new program — which is available for delivery via API integration, on-premise, cloud or professional services — uses the breadth of CoreLogic property and valuations data, according to Wellentin, which provides greater accuracy of risk quantification for customers. In turn, that means better protection for families and business against the damages from these natural catastrophes, Wellentin said.

The CoreLogic U.S. Wildfire Model accounts for both burn and smoke damage, according to the release, and incorporates more than 3.5 million probabilistic simulated events, The simulated events are based on observed data, which provides a comprehensive view across the full spectrum of risk, from individual risk underwriting through portfolio risk management, the release says.

The wildfires that ravaged California last year were the costliest on record, with the California Department of Insurance reporting $12 billion in claims between October and December. The destruction, according to CoreLogic, underscored the need for a new wildfire model.

Email Patrick Kearns