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Seasonal Wildfires and Canadian Home Insurance

What you should know about home insurance coverage for wildfires in Canada.

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Written By Taras Trofimov

Updated

How seasonal wildfires are impacting Canadians 

If 2023 has proven one thing, it’s that the effects of seasonal wildfires have become nearly impossible to ignore, no matter where in Canada you live. In fact, in terms of area burned, 2023 was the worst year on record for wildfires in this country. So much so that even our neighbours to the south were impacted by what’s happening up here, particularly the states of Maryland and New York.

The fires started in March 2023, affecting all 13 provinces, especially Ontario, Quebec, Alberta, British Columbia, Nova Scotia and the Northwest Territories (though Western Canada tends to take the brunt of it year after year). The total area burned in 2023 was over 18.5 million hectares – two and a half times the previous record, set in 1995.

Despite wildfires occurring relatively regularly in Canada, especially between April and September, this amount of land burned is far from normal. According to the Canadian Red Cross, wildfires burn 2.5 million hectares a year, which is nearly half the size of Nova Scotia. In 2023, wildfires burned seven times that amount, which is basically three and a half Nova Scotias. That’s an unprecedented amount of land.

Depending on how close you are to those wildfires, you might want to keep track of them. The Canadian Wildland Fire Information System updates its map daily, so they are worth checking out. During the fire season, you can also get up-to-date wildfire reports and interactive maps from the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre (CIFFC).


The cause of wildfires in Canada

Government of British Columbia's main website attributes 60% of wildfires to lightning and 40% to human activity, such as unattended campfires, discarded cigarettes, burning of debris and arson. That said, these percentages likely fluctuate across the provinces, so the actual numbers will vary, so it might be safer to assume that the split is more half and half.

Even so, given the climate in Canada has grown hotter and drier because of climate change – a largely human-driven phenomenon – it’s hard not to place most of the blame on human activity. In fact, a study by World Weather Attribution has found that climate change has more than doubled the likelihood of extreme fire weather conditions in Eastern Canada.

These hot, dry, and windy conditions can spread and sustain fires over long distances, meaning that even a single flame – sparked by humans or otherwise – can pose a threat to large swathes of land.

According to CIFFC’s reports, 2023 didn’t see significantly more fires started than the years prior – despite more land being burned. In fact, the report shows that more fires were started during the 1980s than in the decades after, strongly suggesting that climate change is the driving force behind the damage wildfires cause today.


Why wildfires are a concern

Many more Canadians were impacted by wildfire smoke in 2023 than in the years prior. Suddenly, even previously untouched cities like Toronto were affected. Almost 200,000 Canadians were placed under an evacuation order during that intense wildfire season. As a result, seasonal wildfires ceased to be some distant, nebulous concept, and became an everyday reality.

So far, wildfire season projections for 2024 aren’t looking much better – but whether it will be another record-breaking year remains to be seen.

Wildfires start small but spread quickly. Traveling across long distances, they can easily ignite trees, brush, homes and buildings. Burning debris can be carried by wind across almost two kilometres ahead of a wildfire, further increasing the risk of more objects getting ignited.

In addition to destroying Canada’s natural environment, wildfires produce enormous amounts of smoke, which reduces air quality and harms our health. The Government of Canada lists asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) exacerbation, bronchitis, pneumonia and cardiovascular outcomes as some of the effects of wildfire smoke.

This means that if your home sits in the area impacted by wildfires, you and your property are at risk. You, your family and the rest of your community may be forced to evacuate – often in a hurry. And if your home gets damaged or lost due to a fire, you will then also have to deal with either repairing or rebuilding it.

Home insurance is likely to play a big role in the recovery process. However, given the rise in wildfire frequency and damage, your premiums may see a significant increase as well. In the US, for instance, insurance companies are losing so much money due to wildfires and other climate-related disasters, they are forced to cancel their coverages and move out of certain states.

While Canadian home insurers aren’t yet abandoning their customers in the same manner, they have been increasing their rates to account for their losses. This isn’t surprising, as according to the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC), severe weather in 2023 cost the country $3.1 billion in insured damage.

Unfortunately, those costs are now being passed down to you and other homeowners, and there’s little you can do to stop this. Even so, there are steps you can take to reduce the impact of wildfires on both your safety and wallet. Read on to learn more.

What does home insurance cover when there is a wildfire?

While wildfires impact a small percentage of homes in Canada, most home insurance policies, including the more basic ones, will cover them. Typical fire coverage in Canada encompasses all types of fires – including those caused by natural disasters. There are no ‘acts of God’ in Canadian home insurance, meaning that you will be protected from fire without exceptions – unless you deliberately set your home ablaze yourself.

So, what does your home insurance actually cover when it comes to wildfires? The answer is, for the most part, everything, including:

  • Your property: If your home or other buildings on your property, such as a guest house, are damaged by a wildfire, your home insurance will cover the costs of repairing or rebuilding them. In most cases, the money covering the value of rebuilding or repairing your home will go straight toward this. In some cases, you may be able to secure this money in cash, so you can spend it however you want. The exact amount of your payout will depend on your coverage.
  • Your belongings: Your insurance company will also replace the contents of your home if they are damaged or destroyed due to a covered peril (in this case, fire). Contents include your furniture, appliances, electronics and clothing. Do note that certain more expensive items, such as jewelry, artwork and collectibles, may need to be covered separately, so be sure to consult with your insurer to see if you’re fully covered.
  • Additional living expenses: Since a fire can temporarily leave you without a home, most home insurance policies will also cover the cost of living elsewhere, such as a hotel, while your home is being rebuilt or repaired, or while you are under a mandatory evacuation order (due to a forest fire or other covered peril). Do note that the additional living expenses coverage is not unlimited. So, talk to your insurer to find out what the limit is.

    Furthermore, IBC recommends that you keep receipts for all your living expenses while away from home to make sure you get fairly compensated after the fact.

How are fire insurance rates determined?

There are certain fire-related factors that can increase your home insurance premiums, mainly the following:

  • Your area: If your home is in a high-risk area for forest fires, then your home insurance premium may be higher as a result. The more wildfires occur in the same area, the riskier that area is. Statistical data is what drives most home insurance rates.
  • Fire hall or hydrant proximity: Insurers take into account your proximity to fire halls and/or hydrants. For instance, if your home is 300 metres or less from a fire hydrant and close to a fire hall, then it is fully protected, meaning your rate will be lower, because the likelihood of your home burning down fully is also lower. If your home is 13 kilometres away from a fire hall and somewhat close to a fire hydrant, then it’s somewhat protected, which would lead to a slightly higher rate. Finally, if your home is far away from both, then it’s not protected, which would translate into an even higher premium.

Steps to take to protect your home from wildfires

Though there is little you can do to prevent a forest fire, there are steps you can take to lower the risk fire poses to your home, yourself and your loved ones. Here are some of them:

  • Report the fires around you: If you see a forest fire, or any other kind of unexpected fire, call 911 to report it. You may be the first person to do so, which may in turn save your home.
  • Follow your local regulations: If there are any fire bans imposed by your local authorities, respect them. Safely dispose of cigarette butts and other fire-reliant objects.
  • Keep your property clean and organized: Remove any objects on your property that can easily catch fire, including debris, fallen branches, leaves and needles. Cut away any branches hanging over your roof. Your roof and gutters should also be free of any flammable objects.

    If you have firewood and/or gas or propane tanks, do not store them inside your home or under your deck – place them inside your shed, garage or basement. As a rule, you shouldn’t have anything flammable for at least 10 metres around your home.
  • Reduce your vegetation: Keep your grass at a height of 10 centimetres or less and reduce the amount of vegetation around your home to lower the risk of fires. According to a study by the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety in the U.S. and climate risk analytics firm Zesty.ai, buildings surrounded by high amounts of vegetation were destroyed in a wildfire 78% of the time – while those surrounded by small amounts were affected only 40% of the time.
  • Store water on your property: Keep containers full of water on your property, if there are wildfires burning in your area. Falling ash may cause small fires, which can grow into larger fires. Having big jugs of water handy can prevent this from happening.
  • Have an emergency plan: If forced to evacuate, you want to be ready. Create an emergency plan detailing what to take and what not to take with you. Plan for the worst, as there is no guarantee that your home will be intact after the evacuation order is over. It is also a good idea to have an emergency survival kit with items such as water, food, extra cash and a first aid kit.
  • Fireproof your roof: Include materials such as metal, asphalt, clay, stucco, brick or slate in your roof construction to protect it from catching fire.
  • Have the means to detect and prevent fires: Install a sprinkler in your home along with smoke detectors. You should check batteries in your smoke detectors regularly. For an additional layer of safety, be sure to have fire extinguishers – which should be replaced every 10 years and kept close to high-risk areas like the kitchen.
  • Create a home inventory list: Create a list of everything you own, so you can reobtain those possessions more easily, especially when filing a claim. Keep this home inventory list stored somewhere safe – either in a fireproof safe, deposit box or in the cloud.
  • Get home insurance: No matter what steps you take, your home may still end up either damaged or destroyed due to a wildfire. If that happens, all you can do is invest money into repairing or rebuilding your home as well as restoring its contents. Having insurance would help a lot in this case. Make sure you have enough coverage to fully protect your home in the event of a fire. Also, don’t wait to get fire insurance until wildfires are literally on your doorstep, since you are likely to get rejected.

    To get the cheapest home insurance rate, compare quotes from over 50 top insurers in the country here on RATESDOTCA. The process is free and takes less than five minutes.

Frequently asked questions about seasonal wildfires in Canada

Need more information about seasonal wildfires and Canadian home insurance? We got you covered.

What will insurance cover if I need to evacuate due to wildfires?

If you are forced to leave your home due to a mandatory evacuation order issued by the local authorities, your home insurance should provide you with enough coverage to pay for your living expenses – usually for a specified amount of time.

Most home insurance policies will cover your living expenses for up to 14 days, if you are forced to leave because of a mass evacuation, according to the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC). Your living expenses include the cost of temporary lodging, some travel expenses and personal necessities, such as groceries.

Note that most of the coverage will apply to things outside of what you usually spend. If your grocery bill exceeds your regular spending, you can claim the difference through your insurance. Same applies to your travel expenses. If it’s more expensive for you to travel to work from where you’re lodging than from your home, then this difference can also be covered.

Your policy will specify whether you have this coverage or not and for how long. Be sure to contact your insurer in advance before making any purchases and keep all your receipts. You might need them when making a claim.

What can I do to protect my home from wildfires?

To ensure your home is protected from wildfires, consider taking the following steps:

  • Remove any objects on your property that can easily catch fire, including debris, fallen branches, leaves and needles.
  • Cut away any branches hanging over your roof. Your roof and gutters should also be free of any flammable objects.
  • Store your firewood and/or gas or propane tanks a good distance away from your home.
  • Keep containers full of water on your property, if there are wildfires burning in your area. Falling ash may cause small fires, which can grow into larger fires and catch you off guard.
  • Include materials such as metal, asphalt, clay, stucco, brick or slate in your roof construction to make it more fire-resistant.
  • Install a sprinkler in your home as well as smoke detectors. You should regularly check the batteries in your smoke detectors to make sure they are working.
  • Get fire extinguishers and keep them within reach.
  • Buy home insurance. It may cost you money, but it will protect you in the worst-case scenario. You can secure home insurance at an affordable premium via RATESDOTCA, by comparing quotes from over 50 top insurers in Canada. The process is fast, free and easy.

If a wildfire is burning nearby, can I get additional home insurance coverage for protection?

It’s possible that you won’t be able to get home insurance if there is a wildfire already burning near your home. Insurance policies exist primarily for long-term protection against unexpected perils. An active wildfire – usually within 50 kilometres of your home or less – will likely deem you as too risky to protect until the threat is over. The same applies if you are up for renewal and wish to add extra coverage. That coverage won’t come into effect if you’re already threatened by what’s being covered.

That’s why we recommend buying the right home insurance coverage in advance – to avoid issues down the road.

Taras Trofimov ,
Content Manager

Taras has over nine years of content marketing experience across multiple industries in B2B and B2C spaces. He has produced thought leadership content for organizations like Constellation Software, Facebook and Yellow Pages as well as outlets like Huffington Post and MSN Canada.

He graduated from York University with a Bachelor of Arts degree and studied Technical Communication at Seneca College.

Experience
  • Home Insurance
Education
  • Bachelor of Arts at York University

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