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Wildfires: The Emerging Risk that Many Canadians Overlook

forest on fire.jpg

Wildfires are on the rise. As climate change leads to hotter, drier summers, and urban populations encroach into rural areas, there's more kindling and risk of ignition.

Wildfire is called an "emerging risk" by insurers. It's always been around, but current conditions mean there are likely to be more claims in the future.

For homeowners, there's good and bad news. You may already have insurance coverage in the event your home is damaged by fire. The bad news is that you might have to use that coverage. To be best prepared, read your home insurance policy closely and ensure you have sufficient protection.

Insurers Are Looking Closely at Wildfires

Since fire can cause such widespread damage, it is no surprise it has piqued the interest of insurance companies. But it has been hard for insurers to measure wildfire risk. The nature of the peril means that it's quite unpredictable. Even if one could identify a "hot bed" where a fire is likely to start, no one can accurately say in which direction the wind will blow.

That challenge for risk assessment comes when the changing climate has made fire risk even greater. In addition to hot summers, many regions have wetter winters. That leads to growth of vegetation, or more plant life that can spread fire. Lightning is also more common, adding a natural source to the human causes of fire.

Homeowners Probably Already Have Coverage

One reason why insurers are so interested in fires is probably because they are committed to paying out these claims. Some homeowners may not know that most home insurance policies cover damage to building and contents by fire. That includes wildfire. An exclusion for "acts of god" is, at least for most Canadian policies, a myth.

In fact, most policies also include a "mass evacuation" provision. That covers additional living expenses if you are forced to leave your home by government order. You can also get additional living expenses -- which cover some of your costs for living elsewhere after your home is damaged -- after a fire event, even if you have not been told to evacuate.

Take Steps to Protect Yourself

It's great to know you may have some coverage for wildfires. But you can also take steps to prevent a wildfire from getting to your home. You can also make it easier to prepare a claim if the time comes.

Clear away flammable materials around the perimeter. That includes brush, trees, and debris that could ignite. Aim for a 10-metre barrier around your home.

Treat your home's exterior, roof, and balcony undersides with flame-resistant material.

Prepare a fire emergency plan with your family.

Keep an inventory of your home belongings.

These are just some ways you can protect yourself. You can also take steps to understand your existing coverage. In the event of a fire emergency, be in touch with your insurer as soon as possible to get information and assistance.

Shop Around for the Best Insurance Rates

It's always a good idea to review your policy and understand your wildfire coverage. If you want to look into your other options, check out the best rates on home insurance at Rates.ca.