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California’s 2018 Wild Blaze Cost Staggering Damages of $150 Billion, New Study Finds

Image used for representational purpose.

Image used for representational purpose.

Researchers at the University of California, Irvine, Tsinghua University, China and other institutions used a combination of physical, epidemiological and economic paradigm to gather a more comprehensive cognizance of the aftermath of the blazes.

A study published on Monday pegged the fact that the 2018 California wildfires cost $150 billion in economic losses. The study released in Nature Sustainability journal found a staggering number, roughly 0.7% of the gross domestic product of the United States.

Researchers at the University of California, Irvine, Tsinghua University, China and other institutions used a combination of physical, epidemiological and economic paradigm to gather a more comprehensive cognizance of the aftermath of the blazes. More than 8,500 discrete fires smouldered 1.9 million acres, making them the most destructive and deadliest in the recorded history of California till then.

The team, on tallying the damage, found the direct capital impact (burned structures and homes) at $27.7 billion, 19 percent of the whole; $32.2 billion, 22 percent of the total, arose from health effects of air pollution, while $88.6 billion in losses, 59 percent, was obliquely caused by the upset of economic supply chains, which includes handicaps to transportation and labour.

Steve Davis, study co-author and professor of Earth system science at Irvine’s University of California, Irvine further elaborated the case in a release. He stated policy makers and insurance companies and media focus on loss of life and direct ruin of physical infrastructure, when assessing damage from California’s wildfires. Davis added that though the factors are important, they alone are not the whole picture. He, along with his team, attempted to take a more holistic approach by including various other factors, such as the disruption of supply chains and the ill effects on the health of those living far away.

Around 8,500 fires that blackened nearly 2 million acres were the most destructive in the history until the 2020 wildfire season. The 2018 wildfire season also saw the Camp Fire, which killed at least 85 people, resulting in the world’s costliest natural disaster that year in terms of insured losses.

The scientists fragmented costs as per property damage ($27.7 billion), health effects by air pollution ($32.2 billion) and disruption of economic supply chains, for example, roads blocked by fire or people forced to leave work ($88.6 billion).

The study authors aim lawmakers will take the study to help regulate the amount of resources required for fire prevention decisions and future land management. The 2020 and ongoing wildfire season in the Golden State has burned nearly 4.4 million acres, so far. It accounts for more than 4% of the total area of the state and a record in the modern era.