The wildfires burning across parts of Western Canada this summer are horrendous for countless reasons: the loss of property, impact on the environment, and stress on those forced to evacuate.
But there is also one other impact that is often missed – the impact on home insurance. This holds true for other natural disasters, not just wildfires. It could be floods, landslides, snowstorms, hail storms, tornadoes, and other such acts of nature.
Most home insurance policies do cover damage from forest fires or wildfires (although some may include a clause about whether the fire originated on your property). That means most of the victims in the devastating wildfires in Lytton, B.C. should be compensated as long as they had insurance.
But there are a few considerations. If you live in a wildfire zone, your premiums are likely to be higher due to the higher risk. That’s true for anyone living in an area with known natural risks and is just one of many considerations insurance companies make when assessing a new customer.
The problem arises when you try to purchase a new home insurance policy in an active wildfire zone. By the time an area is put under evacuation notice, it is too late. When a region is already on fire, the risk of property damage or loss becomes an almost certainty that no company wants to take on. Some insurance companies won’t finalize a policy if there are active fires within a certain distance – one company, for example, doesn’t offer wildfire protection if there is a fire within a 50-kilometer radius. In British Columbia this summer, that excluded many homeowners.
There is a well-known story of a woman in Okanagan, B.C. who was trying to set up condo insurance, but was delayed for weeks due to ongoing wildfires. An hour after the woman signed her new policy, another fire started. If she had delayed at all before signing, she would not have been able to get insurance.
The lesson here is to make sure you have the right policy in place protecting your home as soon as you can – delaying can cost you.