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McKenzie Intelligence Services7/26/22 12:00 AM3 min read

California Wildfires 2021: Responding to a 75 day long season

we can enable a much more nuanced assessment of their loss footprint and help speed up the process for claims payments, ease the extent of claims costs, and, most importantly, benefit the policyholder.



The Situation

Over the last decade, wildfires have raged in California annually, wreaking utter devastation where they occur and displacing entire communities. In 2021, the situation was exacerbated by historically low rainfall and drought, with over three times as many acres burnt as the previous year. Dixie, McFarland, Caldor, Monument and others contributed to almost 300 fires and damage to more than 1000 acres of land. These events mean that insurers must find ways to respond to policyholders’ claims in often dire situations. Traditional loss assessment methods through site inspections are often impossible due to health and safety concerns. Fires can also prevent, in many cases, the collection of aerial imagery due to smoke cover. Furthermore, additional damage can be caused due to landslides, which occur because of extra water runoff after heavy rains and the lack of vegetation destroyed in the fires.

How did we respond?

Through Global Events Observer (GEO), our data-led intelligence platform, we can provide insurers with extensive information concerning the events even without aerial imagery. We collect multiple data streams to build a picture of ground truth with an assessment based on live, real-time data. Furthermore, while we adopt AI within our review, all our reports are validated and overseen by our Intelligence Team, consisting of data experts, ex-military intelligence officers and insurance professionals. With our infra-red capability, we could see through clouds, bringing a level of insight to insurers when it was needed the most and helping claims be paid faster.

Exposure Management

Within the first 24 hours of a fire occurring, we issue an exposure report allowing exposure managers to validate and refine their exposure assessment. Our assessment provides a timestamped perimeter of individual fires and a graded evaluation of damage to individual properties. At this level of granularity, exposure managers can make detailed assessments and confidently provide a refined range of their potential exposure to the C-suite.

We have also worked hard in establishing our own insights hub on GEO so that when risk information is provided to us before or during an event, portfolio insights are made available as soon as intelligence is released, reducing the need for downstream processing, and freeing up time for portfolio analysis to be performed.


With wildfires, the impact of the events is so severe that physical site inspections are often impossible until the initial danger has cleared. The smoke cover also makes assessments from aerial imagery unreliable. With our experienced team of analysts pulling in multiple data streams, including infra-red imagery, we can provide deep-level insights into ground truth and identify graded damage per location. This allows insurers to:

  • Establish ground truth where access is restricted and, in some cases, impossible
  • Implement a data-led operational response
  • Triage claims pre-notification and, in many cases, make payments and claims decisions without needing to undertake physical loss inspections


If insurers work with us before an event, by sharing risk information and setting permissions, we can enable a much more nuanced assessment of their loss footprint and help speed up the process for claims payments, ease the extent of claims costs, and, most importantly, benefit the policyholder. Our data can also be extracted by insurers post-event and fed back into their pricing and underwriting processes.

Feel as though you could be better prepared to tackle #wildfireseason?

Get in touch with Daniel Grimwood-Bird for more information.