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Insurers push for action as wildfires cause state of emergency in B.C.

By: Jessica Mach on August 16, 2018

The government of British Columbia declared a state of emergency on Wednesday as the wildfires burning throughout the province this summer continue to multiply and spread.

The wildfires, which have already destroyed more than 380,000 hectares of land, have prompted at least 29 evacuation orders affecting about 3,050 people, as well as eight evacuation alerts impacting approximately 18,720 people, said the CBC. Firefighters and contractors from Alberta, Saskatchewan, Quebec, New Brunswick, Northwest Territories, Parks Canada, Australia, Mexico, and New Zealand have joined local efforts to stop the fires.

This is the fourth worst wildfire season in B.C. history, as measured by the number of hectares destroyed. 2018 is outranked only by the wildfire seasons of 1961 and 1958, as well as last year’s record-breaking season, during which 1,216,083 hectares of land were burnt.

B.C.’s Minister of Public Safety Mike Farnworth noted that this year’s wildfires cover a much larger territory than last year’s fires, which were concentrated in areas like the Cariboo.

In Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley, the Air Quality Health Index was hiked to nine on Wednesday morning. The index measures air quality relative to human health using a scale of one to 10. The higher the number, the worse the air quality is for health.

While wildfires have long been a staple of B.C. summers, their severity seems to have increased in recent years, with five of the 11 worst wildfire seasons on record taking place in the last eight years. 2017’s wildfires displaced 65,000 B.C. residents from their homes.

If you live in an area that’s susceptible to wildfires, the financial impact is clear. Fires can cause severe damage to your property, and the costs of repairing that damage can be be hard to shoulder.

And while standard home insurance policies automatically include coverage for fire, how far that coverage will stretch will depend on the exact terms of your policy, says Matt Alston, co-founder of brokerage firm Surex Direct.

“It’s important to make sure your home insurance has guaranteed replacement costs, so you don’t have to worry about the costs of rebuilding,” he told LowestRates.ca. “Making sure that if you own rental properties, your limit is high enough so that if you do experience a total loss, you’ll have enough coverage to totally rebuild the home.”

Alston also says that when you’re purchasing your policy, it’s important to factor in how high your deductible is, and whether you’ll be able to shoulder those costs. “I’ve seen carriers with $25,000 deductibles, and the customer is just shocked.”

But, beyond preparing for damage, Alston also thinks it’s imperative to work on preventing wildfires from happening in the first place. And that’s not always up to the individual.

“I think the amount of wildfires happening every summer now, the [insurance] industry as a whole needs to look at what can [we] do to help prevent and to mitigate losses due to wildfires,” he says.

Insurers, he says, “can help with either planning, researching, giving some resources to the government, because obviously the government’s trying to prevent houses from being destroyed. And, in all reality, they’re helping the insurance industry.

“The insurance industry could step up and do a bit of help, and pay some of the costs for doing controlled burns in the off season, just so when there are fires, there’s less likelihood that it’s going to wipe out entire communities, neighbourhoods.”