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California wildfires losses at $3.3 billion and rising

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(Reuters) — Wildfires in California have caused insured losses of more than $3.3 billion, based on claims reported by 15 insurers, and the figure will rise, the California Department of Insurance said on Tuesday.

The number includes claims for 10,016 partial residential losses, 4,712 total residential losses, 728 commercial property losses, and 3,200 personal auto losses, California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones said on a media call.

Since erupting on Oct. 8 and 9, the blazes in parts of Northern California have burnt more than 245,000 acres and destroyed an estimated 8,900 buildings as of Monday, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

The fires, which Mr. Jones said are now 99% contained, caused 43 deaths, including a firefighter.

California is the largest U.S. insurance market, where insurers collect about $289 billion in premiums per year, Mr. Jones said.

The $3.3 billion total is more than triple a $1.05 billion preliminary insured loss estimate by Mr. Jones on Oct 19. "I am concerned that the fires we just experienced are not an anomaly and may represent the new normal," Mr. Jones said. "We know that the climate is changing, and the temperature has been rising."

The devastation included neighborhoods in Santa Rosa, California, that had been deemed to be at low risk for fire, Mr. Jones said.

That could prompt some insurers to update how they determine which areas are potentially risky and then decide to write fewer policies in those places, Mr. Jones said.

Those decisions, if made, could affect "significant parts of California," Mr. Jones said.

Insurer Travelers Cos. Inc., which announced its third-quarter results on Oct. 19, also warned investors of large claims likely this quarter from the wildfires.

An Oct. 27 analysis by Boston-based AIR Worldwide pegged insured losses at an estimated $2 billion to $3 billion.

State Farm is California's largest homeowners insurer and sixth-largest commercial fire insurer, according to a Moody's Investors Service Inc. analysis.

Other large insurers in California include Farmers Insurance, CSAA Insurance Group, Travelers, Allstate Corp. and Chubb Ltd.