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What to know about home insurance during wildfire season

With more than 400 fires burning across Canada, many homeowners may be vulnerable. Here's what to know about your home insurance coverage.

A hot, dry spring has led to a brisk wildfire season across Canada. A recent report shows 413 active wildfires burning across the country, with 26,000 people under evacuation orders. Nova Scotia saw 151 homes burn in wildfires last week, and a blanket of smoke is covering much of Quebec and Ontario, to as far south as North Carolina.

As the risk of wildfires grows, it’s critical to make sure you have the right home insurance coverage to protect your house and belongings. Here’s everything you need to know about home insurance during wildfire season.

Key takeaways on wildfire home insurance

  1. Most home insurance policies include protection against wildfire – depending on the exact terms of your plan, this can include coverage for a property repair or rebuild, additional living expenses, emergency evacuation, and the loss of your contents. 

  2. During times of immediate danger due to wildfire, it's unlikely you'll be able to get a new home insurance policy issued if you live nearby. Insurance companies are there to protect you financially long-term, not simply when it's convenient for you.

  3. If your car is destroyed due to wildfire, this falls under your auto insurance. You'll need comprehensive insurance, an optional coverage on your policy, to be paid out for the damages. 

Does home insurance cover wildfires?

Most home insurance and tenant insurance policies in Canada include fire coverage, including those caused by forest fires and other wildfires. 

Fire insurance usually covers the cost of repairing or replacing your home and other structures on your property if they’re damaged or destroyed by fire or smoke, as well as your additional expenses while your home is unliveable. 

Fire insurance doesn’t cover some preventable fires, like those caused by faulty wiring. It also doesn’t cover your belongings unless you’ve purchased contents insurance. For coverage to apply, your policy will need to be in-force and your payments up-to-date. If you’re unsure of what coverage you have, check your policy or contact your insurance broker.

Can I get home insurance if a wildfire is burning nearby?

It’s better to get adequate home insurance late than never, but you may not be able to get insurance while there’s an immediate danger from wildfires. Insurance companies want you to hold policies for long-term protection, and not jump in and out when it’s convenient for you.

If you don’t have home insurance already, you’re unlikely to get a policy if there’s an active fire nearby. Due to the added risk, most insurers won’t bind a new policy if there’s an active wildfire within 50km of the home. 

If you have home insurance, you should be able to renew your policy but you may not be able to make any changes until after the threat has passed. Changes to your coverage levels or deductibles will have to wait until later.

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

According to the Insurance Bureau of Canada, most home insurance policies will cover your additional living expenses for 14 days if you’re forced to leave due to a mass evacuation. Additional living expenses includes the cost of temporary lodging, additional travel expenses, and some personal necessities.

The key word in this coverage is additional. For example, if your typical drive to work was 20km, and being evacuated increased your commute to 30km, you could claim mileage for the 10km extra you had to travel.

Your policy will specify whether this coverage applies and for how long. Your insurance company may need to approve certain spending in advance, so contact them before making any purchases. Be sure to keep your receipts as backup for your claim.

What will insurance cover if my home is destroyed by wildfire?

Your home insurance policy will likely cover the cost of rebuilding your home, replacing your contents, and your additional living expenses if your home is destroyed by wildfire. This coverage can vary and is dependent on the policy you purchased.

When it comes to rebuilding your home, you most likely have replacement value coverage that will pay to construct a new home of a similar size and quality on the same site. It’s also possible you have cash value coverage that will pay you the value of the structure and leave you free to use the money however you wish.

Your home insurance policy will likely also cover the cost of replacing the things in your home, like appliances, furniture, electronics and clothing. Depending on your policy, you may either be reimbursed for your expenses or be paid a cash settlement. Certain valuables, like jewelry and collections, will need to have been named on your policy to be covered.

Insurance will also likely cover your additional living expenses for a reasonable period of time while your home is being rebuilt.

What will insurance cover if my car is destroyed by wildfire?

If your car is damaged or destroyed by wildfire, you may be covered if your car insurance policy includes comprehensive coverage. This coverage will pay the cost to repair or replace your car, less any deductible specified on your policy.

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What can I do to protect my home from wildfires?

The best way to protect your home from wildfires is by keeping your home insurance policy up to date. Ensure you have adequate coverage to repair or replace your home and contents after a fire and always pay your premiums on time. Don’t wait until wildfires are nearby to get home insurance as you may not be able to get coverage when danger is imminent.

You should also take action to prevent wildfires from starting and spreading in your area.

  • Call 911 in the event of an emergency. Don’t assume someone else has already reported a fire. 
  • Follow instructions from local authorities. Adhere carefully to local burning control laws and respect fire bans. Properly dispose of cigarette butts and be cautious with other potential sources of ignition.
  • Keep the area around your home clean and free of debris. Remove fallen branches, leaves and needles that can feed a fire. Store firewood away from the house.
  • When fires are burning nearby, make sure water is readily available to quickly extinguish fires caused by falling ash. If you live in an urban area, place a garbage can at the end of your driveway and fill it with water for easy access.

Don’t forget to put your family’s safety above all else. The Canadian Red Cross has prepared a useful fact sheet for preparing for wildfires and planning for a safe evacuation.

The bottom line

Protect your home and belongings from wildfires by getting adequate insurance coverage before it’s too late. Compare home insurance quotes online to get the best rates on the coverage you need.

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