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 November 15, 2023

How seasonal wildfires are impacting Canadians 

The impact of seasonal wildfires was nearly impossible to escape in 2023, no matter where you live in Canada. 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 state of New York.

The fires started in March 2023, affecting all 13 provinces, especially Ontario, Quebec, Alberta, British Columbia, Nova Scotia and the Northwest Territories. The total area burned as of October 2023 is over 18 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 equivalent of three and a half Nova Scotias combined. That’s an unprecedented amount of land. As of October 2023, many of those fires are still going.

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 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. That said, these percentages likely fluctuate across the provinces, 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 dryer 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.

Given that hot, dry, windy conditions can spread and sustain fires over long distances – which are caused by humans – it makes sense not to place blame on lightning alone, even if it is what sparks the flame.

It’s also worth noting that 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

A lot more Canadians were impacted by wildfire smoke in 2023 than in the prior years. Suddenly, even Toronto was impacted. As a result, seasonal wildfires ceased to some distant, nebulous concept, and became an everyday reality.

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

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.

This means that if your home sits in the area impacted by wildfires, you and your property are at risk. As a result, 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.

Because of the wildfires in 2023, almost 200,000 Canadians were placed under an evacuation order.

So, what can you do to avoid drastic consequences in the event of a wildfire? Read on to find out.

What does home insurance cover when there is a wildfire?

While wildfires impact a small percentage of homes in Canada, most home insurance policies will cover them – along with other types of fires. In fact, your basic policy will also cover lightning, wind and hail, all of which can lead to a fire inside your home. So, if you have home insurance, then it’s unlikely that you’re not covered for wildfires.

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, such as a guest house, on your property 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 limitless. So, talk to your insurer to find out what the limit is.

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: 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, store them a good distance away from your home.
  • 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 a plan: If forced to evacuate, you want to be ready. Create a 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.
  • Make your roof fire-resistant: 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.
  • 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 forced to leave because of a mass evacuation, according to the Insurance Bureau of Canada. 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 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.

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