July 6, 2017
(Vancouver, BC): According to a recent study conducted by Square One, Canadians evacuated from their homes because of wildfires can expect to suffer an average of $11,300 in financial losses. Those with home insurance can recover most, but not all, of the financial loss.
There have already been 1,700 wildfires across Canada during the first six months of 2017. The province with the most wildfires is Alberta, which accounts for 37% of the national total. This is followed by British Columbia with 16%, and Quebec with 8%. With wildfire season well underway, Square One wants to help Canadians prepare for wildfires, and understand how home insurance responds to wildfire claims.
“There’s a lot of information available on wildfire prevention and preparedness,” says Daniel Mirkovic, Square One’s President. “But, there’s surprisingly very little information on what financial losses people suffer from wildfires. That’s why we’ve decided to share our findings from the Fort McMurray wildfire in 2016.”
Residents who were affected by wildfires generally fall into two categories. The first includes those who suffered direct fire loss to their homes and belongings. The second includes those who suffered indirect fire loss, like smoke or ash damage, to their homes and belongings.
It’s important to understand the financial impacts of wildfires in residential areas. In reviewing the Fort McMurray wildfire, Square One found:
Even if flames don’t reach your home, you’re still at risk of suffering a large claim. Residents who suffered indirect losses reported claims averaging $11,300. Indirect fire loss typically results from smoke entering the home, ash settling in the home, and food becoming spoiled during power outages. Indirect fire losses also include additional living expenses, which are the increased costs incurred while residents are forced to live outside their home. The average cost for additional living expenses was $2,800.
Since fire is an insured peril under all policies, those with home insurance were able to recover most of their financial losses. Insurance payouts are still subject to policy deductibles. The average deductible for Square One policyholders was $1,700.
Spoiled and contaminated food was the most common type of property loss. Every claim submitted by residents affected by the Fort McMurray wildfires included spoiled and contaminated food. This isn’t surprising since there were extended power outages. Even homes that didn’t experience power outages suffered this type of property damage. That’s because non-refrigerated food was contaminated by smoke or ash.
In the event of an evacuation, prepare to be away from your home for weeks. A mandatory mass evacuation order will cause you to live away from home and prevent you from returning for several weeks, sometimes months. Evacuation orders can last well after the main fire has been controlled for several reasons, including additional smaller fires, air quality, dangerous debris, and delays in restoring critical services, like hospitals.
And, it’s important to note that claims processing times during natural disasters can vary. That means you will likely still be in the claims process even after the mandatory evacuation order has been lifted and you’re allowed to return home.
Natural Resources Canada predicts that climate change will result in a 50% increase in large wildfires. What was once a one in a hundred years event will now occur much more frequently. And, those fires will continue to cause significant damage to populated areas. As such, many communities are focusing on both wildfire prevention and recovery.
The first step in preventing wildfire damage is to prepare your house and its surrounding area. FireSmart, a program developed by the Government of Alberta, suggests the following:
Create a zone of protection around your home. If you can, ensure the area within 10 metres of your home is free of trees, flammable vegetation, and other combustibles including woodpiles or garbage.
Removing tree branches that are up to two metres from the ground will help stop wildfires from reaching the tree tops. If you’re able, try to keep the tops of the trees on your property at least three meters away from each other. If the fire reaches the top of the trees, the distance between them may stop the fire from spreading.
FireSmart also highly recommends keeping your grass mowed short and well-watered.
Use fireproof materials in the construction of your home: This could include using fire-resistant roofing and siding materials, tempered glass windows, and a spark arrestor on your chimney. Taking these steps may even reduce your home insurance rate.
With wildfires occurring more often, Square One explains what you should do during the alert period and during the actual evacuation:
During the alert period: The alert period is when officials alert residents that they should be ready to evacuate at a moment’s notice. You should pack suitcases with toiletries, medications, seven days’ worth of clothing and shoes, and all your important documents and contact information. Then, leave these suitcases at your front door so that they’re ready to go, and keep them with you in your vehicle while you’re out and about. During the Fort McMurray wildfire, some residents were not able to return home once the evacuation was ordered.
During the evacuation: The most important thing to do during the evacuation period is to follow the directions of the authorities. For example, returning home might sound safe, but the authorities may provide additional information that would make returning home dangerous. You should also use social media to obtain near real-time updates, check in to an official evacuation center, and contact your home insurance provider. They can explain the claims process and review what coverage your policy provides, as well as any limits of insurance and deductibles that apply.
If your home and belongings suffered damage, then it’s important that you understand the options available to you for repairs. It’s probably best to rely on licensed contractors for direct fire damage. On the other hand, you may want do some of the work yourself for indirect fire damage. For example, you can probably do just as good a job cleaning your furniture as a hired professional. The work will get done much faster, and you’ll often be offered fair compensation for your efforts.
For more information on wildfire preparedness and prevention, please visit www.squareone.ca/preparing-for-wildfires. And if you have questions about how home insurance responds to wildfire claims, speak with your insurance provider or call Square One at 1.855.331.6933.
Established in 2011, Square One offers the only home insurance policy in North America that can be personalized to your unique needs. That means you only pay for the protection you need. Square One is also one of the few providers to automatically include water backup and broad water protection in its policies. Square One currently serves British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Ontario. For more information about Square One, or to get an online quote, visit www.squareone.ca.
For more information on this release, please contact:
Square One Insurance Services Inc.
Tel: 1.855.331.6933 ext 127