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Nearly $2 billion in losses following SoCal's December wildfires

The Thomas Fire burned the main office at the KOA Ventura Ranch Campground near Steckel Park.
The Thomas Fire burned the main office at the KOA Ventura Ranch Campground near Steckel Park.
Sharon McNary/KPCC

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Nearly $2 billion in insurance claims were filed following the December wildfires that ravaged Southern California, according to new data released Wednesday from the California Department of Insurance.

More than 13,000 claims were filed by homeowners and businesses across the region.

The claims were made following a seemingly endless string of wildfires that popped up in a vast arc from San Diego to Santa Barbara counties. The biggest of those was Thomas fire, the largest wildfire in state history, which burned nearly 274,000 acres. Its size made it easily visible from space, as it quickly marched through the dry brush of Ventura and Santa Barbara counties with the help of fierce winds and a lack of rain. It destroyed more than 1,000 structures and claimed the life of a firefighter. 

Ventura County was the hardest hit during the fires, with claims totaling more than $1.4 billion.

That figure is only a portion of the nearly 45,000 claims filed statewide following the wildfires in both Northern and Southern California that popped up between October and January.

The Tubbs fire in Santa Rosa was particularly destructive and deadly, resulting in the deaths of 44 people and more than 5,500 structures destroyed.

All told, claims for the entire state have totaled $11.79 billion.

"These claimed insured losses represent one of the most damaging natural catastrophes in California history," said California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones on a conference call with reporters early Wednesday morning. 

"These are staggering and unprecedented losses," he said.

However, those numbers don't include the losses incurred in the Montecito mudslides, which lead to the death of at least 20 people and the destruction of 115 homes.

Jones said that insurance plans don't usually cover losses caused by mudslides, that is unless the mudslides are related to another covered event such as wildfires. This week he pressed insurance companies to cover victims of the mudslides, but said that it would be some time before they were taken care of as the two events haven't been officially linked. However, he said that he expects they will be.

"If we continue to see these kinds of fires, we may see some number of insurers in some areas decline to write insurance," Jones said, noting the increased risk of wildfires under climate change.

 Jones said that there are already areas of Los Angeles that have high risk where insurers are declining to write policies.

Jones said that homeowners seeking help with the claims process should be wary of third parties willing to take a fee to help. He urged them to reach out to the California Insurance Office for assistance at 1-800-927-4357.

On Saturday, the Department of Insurance is hosting a workshop in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties to assist those who were impacted by the recent disasters.