Although uncommon in some portions of Texas, wildfires pose a significant risk for damage to property and agriculture in a variety of areas across our state. This could change over time, however, as summer heatwaves continue to throttle different portions of the nation.
Recent Heatwaves Could Raise the Risk of Wildfires
As summer began this year, several states in the southwest and beyond have already experienced incredibly high temperatures due to heatwaves. From California to Montana, 40 million people experienced temperatures of 100°F or higher. Texas, included, also saw unseasonably scorching temperatures so early in the summer. Temperatures in Texas have been so high, that our already beleaguered power grid operator, ERCOT, requested that residents limit their energy usage to avoid losing power entirely.
This recent string of heatwaves has already sparked wildfires in southwestern states with typically dry climates. This extreme heat coupled with regional droughts has complicated firefighter and emergency efforts to contain the blazes. In Arizona, for instance, large area tankers utilized to fight fires were unable to fly at all due to the high temperatures. Despite wildfires being a common threat to western states, as temperatures continue to rise across the nation, they could become a major risk for Texans.
Texas’s last major wildfire occurred in 2011. Known as the Tri-County Wildfire, it spanned across Grimes, Waller, and Montgomery Counties for over 28 days. The fire was caused by extreme heat and severe drought following a lightning strike, leading to one of the most destructive fires in Texas history. However, the Tri-County fire was only one of several the state saw in 2011. According to the Texas Forest Service, during September of that year, 4,064 fires burned 300,279 acres and destroyed 2,139 homes and businesses across Texas.
Now, as weather conditions continue to heat up, concerns about future wildfires in the southwest are rising. According to a report published by climate scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, these rare heatwaves are three to five degrees warmer than normal over most of the United States. The report added that heatwaves of this nature are only likely to get worse in the future.
According to climate models, this warming trend could continue for at least the next 30 years. While global temperatures could rise 2°F, in some areas of the United States the increase will be closer to 5°F according to climate scientists at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder.
Commercial Insurance Coverage for Wildfires
When temperatures and drought conditions rise, grass, trees, and vegetation become yellowed, dry, and brittle. These dry conditions, combined with high winds and lightning strikes can cause a wildfire to spark at any moment. While these events often occur in more remote areas, no commercial property is immune to fire and property damage.
Businesses aren’t just vulnerable to wildfire threats alone, but are also susceptible to fires that could occur at adjoining businesses, lightning strikes, electrical fires, and even arson. Although a fire’s effect could constitute accidental damage, major damage and loss could have long-lasting results. Unfortunately, some businesses are so damaged by a major loss that they may never be able to recover. Because of this, all business owners should fully understand what is and isn’t covered under their commercial insurance policy or policies.
In most cases, Texas commercial property policies include coverage for damage due to wildfires within fire damage provisions; however, certain exclusions can limit coverage. While commercial general liability policies provide coverage when a policyholder accidentally causes bodily injury or property damage to a third party, with regard to fires, if a policyholder accidentally starts a fire that damages their property, the resulting loss may not be covered. However, if an accidental fire burns thousands of businesses, homes, and agriculture assets, insurers are quick to point to policy exclusions to avoid responsibility for paying claims entirely.
This is because in some commercial policies, wildfire damage may not be covered when considered an “Act of God.” Additionally, there can also be challenges with fire insurance coverage if the commercial property was affected by a neighboring property’s fire but did not experience its own direct fire.
While policy exclusions relating to wildfires can be incredibly frustrating, the best way to fully understand your coverage is to consult with an experienced commercial property damage attorney. This can help business owners ensure they understand their potential policy limitations and know their legal options in the event a fire damage claim has been wrongfully denied.
Commercial Property Damage Attorneys
As temperatures rise, so does the threat of a wildfire. When a fire occurs and causes damage to a business, it can be incredibly devastating. Despite business owners finding solace in knowing they have commercial property coverage, insurance providers often do all they can to avoid paying out on valid claims to turn a profit. At Raizner Law, we know how upsetting this can be and are familiar with the hurdles insurers put up in an attempt to mitigate their costs. Contact our office today to see how we can best help you and your business.