SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF/AP) – Northern California’s historic wildfire that destroyed the town of Paradise and threatens to bankrupt PG&E, has been deemed the world’s costliest single natural disaster of 2018.
The Camp Fire was already declared the deadliest most destructive fire in California history, according to state officials. Now, one of the world’s leading reinsurers, Germany’s Munich Re has given the wildfire global status, placing its cost at the top of 2018’s list of catastrophes.
The reinsurance giant said in a press release on Tuesday that the November fire caused overall losses of $16.5 billion. The company said some $12.5 billion in losses were insured.
The 150,000-acre firestorm killed 88 people and destroyed thousands of homes and other structures last November.
California’s Attorney General’s office issued a report last week saying state utility company Pacific Gas & Electric Corporation could face murder or manslaughter charges for its role in the blaze.
PG&E filed an electric safety incident report that the utility experienced problem on transmission line minutes before the massive Camp Fire in Butte County erupted. Utility officials noted in the report that the information was preliminary.
Ultimately, PG&E could face billions of dollars in liability and its parent company was considering filing for bankruptcy protection. The news sent shares of the utility plummeting on Friday.
In December, dozens of families joined in a lawsuit against PG&E, alleging inadequate maintenance of equipment caused the fire. The claim filed in Butte County Superior Court, was for an undisclosed amount. There are likely more lawsuits to come.
“The casualties and losses are immense, and measures to prevent fires and damage are vital,” said Ernst Rauch, head of Climate and Geosciences at Munich Re. “Insurers also need to take account of the rising losses in their risk management and pricing.”
Board member Torsten Jeworrek said increasing wildfires in California appear linked to climate change.
“Action is urgently needed on building codes and land use to help prevent losses,’ said Jeworrek.
Munich Re’s report said losses from all natural disasters reached $160 billion last year, above the inflation-adjusted average of $140 billion for the last 30 years but below 2017’s hurricane-driven high of $350 billion.
The report says Hurricane Michael was the second most expensive natural castrophe in the world,.
The company named the September tsunami that destroyed the Indonesian city of Palu as the world’s deadliest disaster. The 7-meter tidal wave killed 2,100 people and destroyed thousands of buildings and homes.
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