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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida businesses and insurers are escaping the worst of the wildfires that have swept across the state for several weeks.
Insured losses and commercial damage have not been heavy, even though the fires have been widespread and difficult to extinguish. The fires, many sparked by lightning in the tinder-dry state, had caused an estimated $276 million in losses as of late last week, according to Florida's Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee.
The center so far has attributed only $2.6 million of those losses to homes and businesses. "We think that figure is low at this point," said a spokesman for the center last week. The spokesman added, though, that he expects that amount to rise.
The remaining $273 million in damage is to timber, much of which is not insured. About 60,000 of the more than 485,000 burned acres are in national forests, the spokesman added, with an undetermined amount of burned acreage within state forests.
"We anticipate insured losses to be slight," said a spokesman for the Insurance Information Institute in New York. "We're still waiting to receive claims for additional living expenses, smoke damage and business interruption claims."
Insured losses are expected to reach $25 million, but "we don't expect it will go much beyond that," he said.
The fires are responsible for at least one large insured commercial loss: extensive damage at W.W. Truss Co. in Ormond Beach, Fla.
"Their lumber and inventory were wiped out," said Charlie Lydecker, a senior vp at insurance broker Poe & Brown Inc. in Daytona Beach, Fla. He said the truss-building company's loss is expected to reach about $500,000 to $750,000.
Mr. Lydecker said property coverage placed by Poe & Brown with CNA Insurance Cos. is expected to cover W.W. Truss' loss.
The loss is the only commercial claim Poe & Brown had received as of last week. The broker had received about half a dozen claims from homeowners.
Jefferson Smurfit Corp., a St. Louis-based paper manufacturer, expects its timber losses to reach about $12 million to $14 million, said Mike Branch, region manager in the company's Fernandina Beach, Fla., office.
Trees owned by Jefferson Smurfit on about 16,000 acres in northern counties were scorched, and the timber losses are not insured, according to Mr. Branch. "We're in the process of trying to evaluate what we will be able to salvage," he said.
Mr. Branch said most operations like Jefferson Smurfit don't carry insurance to pay for timber losses. "A few agencies will write it, but it's very expensive."
Georgia-Pacific Corp., based in Atlanta and doing business as The Timber Co. in Florida, owned timber on about 40,000 burned acres, mostly in coastal counties.
Estimates were not available on the loss, which is self-insured, according to Gorman Eidson, eastern region manager in The Timber Co.'s Palatka, Fla., office.
Poe & Brown took to the airwaves as the fires approached the Daytona area, advising its clients and others to prepare to leave their homes and businesses. The messages focused on getting out of harm's way first, and second, what to take along if time allowed, Mr. Lydecker explained.
Mr. Lydecker found he had to follow his firm's advice. He and his family became evacuees July 1 when authorities gave them about 15 minutes to get out of their home. "When I left Wednesday night, I thought the city was burning," he said.
"The fact that we suffered as little damage as we did is, frankly, nothing short of a miracle," he said. Firefighters were able to keep the blaze from reaching Mr. Lydecker's home and others in the area.
Others weren't so fortunate.
Allstate Floridian Insurance Co. said late last week it had received 872 fire-related property claims for an undetermined amount. The insurer had identified all but 11 of the claims as filed by owners of dwellings.
The III spokesman said business interruption claims may eventually be filed. The fires caused the closure of portions of Interstate 95 from Titusville to Jacksonville for six days; the interstate was completely open by the evening of July 6. Fire also destroyed some crops, he pointed out. That could mean businesses outside the area were unable to receive goods or food that is used in their operations.
Daytona International Speedway postponed until Oct. 17 the Pepsi 400 NASCAR Winston Cup Series race. Originally scheduled for July 4, the race was called off so the speedway could direct its firefighting equipment and personnel to battle the blazes.
Speedway employees also helped feed firefighters and government employees working in emergency operations, a Speedway release said.
A Speedway spokesman could not say how much it cost to reschedule the race but confirmed that such expenses are not covered by insurance. Tickets for the sold-out event will be honored on Oct. 17.