Black Forest Fire insurance claims nearing 4,000

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Reports in June indicated that the Black Forest Fire would likely make history as the most destructive in Colorado annals. But that might not be the case after all.

Through July 15, the Black Forest Fire generated 3,630 claims, accounting for nearly $300 million, according to information released by the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association last week.

Those numbers lag behind the 6,648 claims costing $453.7 million, from the 2012 Waldo Canyon fire - the most destructive in Colorado history.

The Black Forest Fire destroyed 488 homes (that figure continues to be updated) and burned more 14,000 acres. Original reports had 511 homes destroyed, but that number was revised earlier this month. The fire began on June 11 and was finally out on June 20.

The Waldo Canyon Fire consumed 347 homes and burned more than 18,000 acres.

“Insured losses have so much to do with where a fire occurred and what type of properties were in that area,” said Carole Walker, executive director of the RMIIA, in a statement.

Walker added that the Black Forest fire hit a more rural area containing a wide range of homes. They ranged from homes worth millions to dilapidated cabins and trailers.

The Waldo Canyon Fire, on the other hand, hit the denser Mountain Shadows subdivision of northwest Colorado Springs where the majority of homes ranged anywhere from $300,000 $400,000, or more.

The value of claims from the Waldo Canyon fire rose nearly 29 percent from the preliminary estimate to a year after the fire, according to the RMIIA. Property owners have a year to file claims against their policies. Claims from the Black Forest fire are expected to rise in coming months.

“Insurers think they have heard from those customers facing a total loss in Black Forest by now,” Walker said.

Walker estimated that if the Black Forest fire could generate claims that would come in around $377 million. That would rank it as the second most destructive wildfire in state history in dollar terms.

Walker and the RMIIA believes that due to the increase in wildfires in recent years, both homeowners and insurers seem to be better prepared to handle catastrophic losses.

In related stories, bomb squads from the Colorado Springs Police Department and the El Paso County Sheriff's Office used explosives last week to blow up trees that were burned by the Black Forest Fire, bypassing the typical way firefighters cut down the trees with chainsaws.

Using explosives, the departments said, allows the trees to be removed from a safe distance.

Crews tried the new technique on a handful of trees on private property located along Coachman Drive.

All told, $29 million worth of trees were incinerated by the fire. That number was released by the El Paso County Assessor's Office last week. It was based upon decreased property values.

The Assessor's office also said that the fire brought $116,308,348 of market value loss to area that was mostly dependent upon trees for its appeal.