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California wildfires burn as many as 7,000 buildings cause $1 billion in damages

The wildfires that have devastated Northern California this month caused at least $1 billion in damage to insured property, officials said on Friday, as authorities increased the count of homes and other buildings destroyed to nearly 7,000. Both numbers were expected to rise as crews continued assessing areas scorched by the blazes that killed 42 people, a total that makes it the deadliest series of fires in state history.

State Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones said the preliminary dollar valuation of losses came from claims filed with the eight largest insurance companies in the affected areas and did not include uninsured property. The loss total was expected to climb “probably dramatically so,” Jones told reporters, making it likely the fires also would become the costliest in California’s history.

The initial insurance total covered 4,177 partial residential losses, 5,449 total residential losses, 35 rental and condominium losses, 601 commercial property losses, more than 3,000 vehicle losses, 150 farm or agricultural equipment losses, and 39 boats.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection’s estimate of homes and structures destroyed was boosted to 6,900 from 5,700 as fire crews returned to hard-hit neighbourhoods and assessed remote and rural areas they could not get to earlier, spokesman Daniel Berlant said.

He said most of the newly counted destroyed buildings burned on October 8 and October 9, when the wildfires broke out in wine country north of San Francisco and other nearby areas. “The estimates are in structures and are mostly homes, but also includes commercial structures and outbuildings like barns and sheds,” Berlant said.

Twenty-two of the 42 deaths in California’s October fires happened in a Sonoma County wildfire, making it the third-deadliest in California history. A 1933 Los Angeles fire that killed 29 people was the deadliest, followed by the 1991 Oakland Hills fire killed 25.

When adjusted for inflation, the Oakland Hills fire is believed the costliest fire in California history at $ 2.8 billion. It destroyed about half as many homes and other buildings as the current series of fires.

California Governor Jerry Brown late yesterday issued an executive order to speed up recovery efforts as fire authorities say they’ve stopped the progress of wildfires.

More than 15,000 people remain evacuated today, down from a high of 100,000 last Saturday.

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