Claims in Black Forest fire reach almost $300 million; Waldo still trumps in costs

July 16, 2013

Black Forest residents so far have filed nearly $300 million in insurance claims related to the fire that started June 11, making it the second-most expensive wildfire in state history.

The figure, which was announced Monday by the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association, offers a more detailed snapshot of the cost of the fire, which destroyed 486 homes, killed two residents and blackened 14,280 acres in north El Paso County.

But despite burning more homes, current claims show the Black Forest fire to be less costly than last summer's Waldo Canyon fire, which destroyed 347 houses and killed two people. After staying on national forest land for three days, the Waldo Canyon fire blew into Colorado Springs on June 26, 2012. As of last month, the association counted 6,648 claims for that blaze, tallying costs at $453.7 million.

By comparison, the Black Forest fire swept through thousands of acres of heavily wooded private property. Black Forest residents have since filed 3,630 homeowner and automotive claims, at a cost of $292.8 million.

The claims place the Black Forest fire as the sixth most costly natural disaster in state history, the association said.

The association's report did not include commercial losses - rather, it tallied the damage to most all other property, including homes, residents' belongings and vehicles.

"And that could continue to rise. Certainly we expect more people to file claims particularly as they observe damage or smoke damage, said Carole Walker, the association's executive director.

The difference between the two fires' costs may lie in the types of properties and neighborhoods that burned, Walker and other observers said Monday.

The Black Forest fire raged through a rural landscape that featured a diverse array of properties - homes ranging from million-dollar mansions to cabins to run-down, decades-old houses, Walker said.

As such, the median home value in Black Forest was lower than in Mountain Shadows, said Mark Lowderman, the El Paso County Assessor.

The Waldo Canyon fire, by comparison, devastated a densely populated urban neighborhood with houses of similar value, she added.

The El Paso County Assessor's Office plans to release its own damage report this week detailing the Black Forest fire's hit to property values - figures that are used to determine property taxes.

Last week, Lowderman said his assessment team found that the fire caused about $85 million in damage to homes in Black Forest - below the $121 million price tag of the Waldo Canyon fire.

He cautioned, though, that the Black Forest figure should rise once taking into account outbuildings and tree damage, which had yet to be totaled.

He plans to slash 30 percent of the property value where trees were destroyed, and 15 percent from the value of land in cases where trees were damaged by the flames, but survived.

"When you compare Mountain Shadows and Black Forest on a fire basis, about the only thing they had in common was there was a fire," Lowderman said.


Contact Jakob Rodgers: 476-1654

Twitter @jakobrodgers

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