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What to know about home insurance if you've been displaced by wildfires in B.C. or N.W.T

Curt Derkson sprays water on hot spots near a house in Celista, British Columbia, Canada, on Saturday, Aug. 19, 2023. (Cole Burston/Bloomberg via Getty Images) Curt Derkson sprays water on hot spots near a house in Celista, British Columbia, Canada, on Saturday, Aug. 19, 2023. (Cole Burston/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

All standard homeowner and tenant insurance policies cover damage caused by fires, and also provide coverage to help with the cost of mass evacuations, according to the Insurance Bureau of Canada 

Experts recommend getting your insurance claim started as soon as possible.

“As soon as there's an incident that's ongoing ... consumers will want to reach out to their insurance company right away at least to get the claim started,” said Daniel Ivans, an insurance expert with Ratesdotca.

Devastating wildfires have forced thousands from their homes in the Northwest Territories and the B.C. Interior over the past week.

A provincial state of emergency was enacted in B.C., with around 30,000 people under evacuation order as of Sunday. It's too early to provide estimates of insured damages from the fires as they are still ongoing, said IBC.

Those filing a claim don't need to have a full picture of the damage right away, said Ivans, as you can add to your claim later once you know the extent of the fire's impact on your property.

“Once those evacuation orders are lifted, you'll have a better sense of what type of damage that your property may have incurred,” said Rob de Pruis, IBC's national director of consumer and industry relations.

“And then adjusters will come out and take a look at your property and meet you there to go through that process.”

In a news release Sunday, IBC advised anyone forced to flee in the Northwest Territories and British Columbia to make a list of damaged or destroyed items and keep receipts for expenses they incurred. The more details, the better when it comes to making a claim, said IBC.

In addition to your home and personal property, your insurance may cover the contents of your freezer if it's spoiled after a power interruption, it said.

Often people have misconceptions about so-called “act of God” exclusions for disasters like fires, said de Pruis. As long as you didn't deliberately set fire to your own home, wildfire and smoke damage are widely covered under home insurance, and the origin of a wildfire does not affect your claim, he said.

“There's no such thing as an 'act of God' exclusion in Canadian insurance policies,” he said.

However, renters should be aware that without tenant insurance, their personal property isn't covered under their landlord's insurance, he said.

As well, not all car insurance covers smoke or fire damage, said de Pruis.

“Fire damage or smoke damage to your vehicle is covered if you purchased optional comprehensive coverage,” he said.

Once you report a loss to your insurance company, you will be assigned a claims adjuster who will investigate and help with the claims process, IBC said on its web page dedicated to the 2023 wildfire season.

There may be some short-term delays due to a high influx of calls, but insurance companies will be deploying resources from other areas to help with the volume, said de Pruis.

While starting a claim sooner may help you get reimbursed sooner, IBC said personal claims can usually be reported within two years of finding out about the damage or loss.

People trying to get new insurance policies during this time will have to wait until the imminent threat of fires is over, said de Pruis.

“For the areas that are under imminent threat, like under an evacuation order, insurance companies temporarily restrict the sale of new insurance policies during these times,” he said. However, renewals will continue to be processed during this time.

Before the B.C. and N.W.T. fires started rampaging, it was already a record-setting year for wildfires in Canada. More than one in four Canadians told a polling firm in June that they had been affected by fires during the spring.

Months of fires in Western Canada and the Atlantic provinces had already stretched Canada's firefighting capacity by the time summer rolled around, with international firefighters called in to help over the season and Natural Resources Canada predicting the abnormal fire season would continue.

There are more than 1,000 active fires across the country right now, according to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre Inc. More than 14 million hectares have been burned so far this year.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 21, 2023. Top Stories

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