California Wildfires Cost $150 Billion in Damages: Report

December 8, 2020 Updated: December 8, 2020

California wildfires caused nearly $150 billion in economic losses in 2018, according to a recently-released study partially conducted by University of California—Irvine (UCI) researchers.

The Nature Sustainability study, published Dec. 7, included physical, epidemiological, and economic models to calculate a more comprehensive understanding of the wildfires’ impact. China’s Tsinghua University, and other institutions, contributed to the report.

According to the study, more than 8,500 separate fires burned 1.9 million acres in 2018, making it the deadliest and most destructive year in California history.

“When insurance companies, policy makers and even the media assess damage from California’s wildfires, they focus on loss of life and direct destruction of physical infrastructure, which, while important, are not the whole picture,” co-author and UCI professor Steve Davis said in a press release.

“We tried to take a more holistic approach for this project by including a number of other factors such as the ill effects on the health of people living far away and the disruption of supply chains.”

Researchers found that burned buildings and homes accounted for $27.7 billion, while an additional $32.2 billion was caused by the health effects of air pollution. Another $88.6 billion in losses was indirectly caused by the disruption of economic supply chains, the study found.

Dabo Guan, a Tsinghua University earth system science professor and University College London researcher, led the study.

Guan said the broader impacts of the wildfires, “are not only bigger than prior studies have estimated, but also more widely dispersed—including sizable impacts outside of the state.”

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