Wildfires are on the rise in Canada. Western provinces including B.C. and Alberta are expected to see longer and more intense wildfire seasons in the coming years. As wildfires worsen, more families in Western Canada will need to consider purchasing about Mass Evacuation insurance if they do not already have it.
Mass Evacuation insurance is part of a home insurance policy and is meant to cover the financial burden placed on you and your family during a mass evacuation. Mass evacuation orders may be put in place by governments during wildfires, tornados, or mass flooding events. This guide to Mass Evacuation insurance will focus mainly on evacuations due to wildfires.
What Does Mass Evacuation Insurance Cover?
Mass Evacuation insurance covers sudden expenses due to an accident or weather event that requires the evacuation of your neighbourhood or town. Mass Evacuation insurance only covers expenditures above and beyond your usual expenses.
These are some of the things that are most likely covered by your insurance during a mass evacuation:
- Temporary accommodations (short-term during the evacuation)
- Food above your usual expenses (i.e., the difference between ordering takeout because you do not have access to a kitchen and your usual grocery bill)
- Moving expenses related to long-term loss of use of your home
- Storage costs (i.e., for valuables rescued from your home after re-entry)
- Travel costs above your usual expenditure
When an evacuation order affects your home, mass evacuation insurance will reimburse you for your hotel stay until the order is lifted. After that time, Mass Evacuation Coverage will terminate.
If, after the order is lifted, you discover that your home was damaged to the extent that it is no longer “livable,” you will have to inform your insurance company. Additional Living Expense coverage will then kick-in, and continue to reimburse you for temporary accommodation or until your home is in livable condition.
If your home was not damaged, or if the damage was not significant enough to render it “unlivable” insurance will not respond to any continued expenses. If you decide not to return to a home that is livable, the costs you incur will come out of pocket. There are potentially limited exceptions. For example, if you have a valid medical reason for staying away, you may be able to extend the period of coverage. If you think you may have a valid reason to extend your coverage, you should speak to your adjuster quickly.
Some of the things not likely covered by this kind of insurance include:
- Mortgage payments, which you must continue to make
- Lost wages from loss of employment or inability to get to your job during the mass evacuation
- Ordinary expenses like your phone bill, gym memberships, etc.
- Utility bills such as hydro, internet, or cable. You should contact your utility providers when there is a mass evacuation order affecting your home
What to Do After a Mass Evacuation
After the mass evacuation order is lifted, you and your family will have an opportunity to return to your home and view the damage. There are precautions you should take when you prepare to do so.
Air Quality After a Wildfire
Air quality is a major concern even after a mass evacuation order has been lifted. Wildfires burn through vegetation and organic matter, filling the air with dangerous particulate matter. Recent wildfires in B.C., as well as West Coast states in the U.S., have seen smoke-filled air blanket metro areas far from the site of the wildfires themselves. The air quality closer to the wildfire is much worse and remains dangerous even after the fire has passed.
Exposure to the particulate matter produced by wildfires can be dangerous to your health, especially for those who already have respiratory health issues. Side effects of exposure include issues such as:
- Wheezing and increased heart rate;
- Increased risk of an asthma attack;
- Coughing and difficulty breathing;
- Chest pain; or
- Runny nose, sore throat, and headaches.
The health risks are greater for children, the elderly, and pregnant women, as well as those with health issues such as chronic heart and lung disease.
Be aware of the air quality in your town before returning to your home. Even if your home was unscathed by the wildfire, you may have medical conditions necessitating a prolonged stay in a hotel or rental after the evacuation order has been lifted. If you or a family member suffers from asthma or another medical condition that could worsen due to air quality, your insurance may continue to cover your additional living expenses.
Re-Entering Your Home
Returning to your home after a mass evacuation can be a fearful and stressful experience. The B.C. Government offers these tips and more for safely re-entering your home after a wildfire:
- Be aware of your surroundings. Obey road signage and Damage Assessment Placards – notices put up on damaged and unsafe buildings that will tell you whether a building is safe to be entered or if access is restricted.
- If you can safely re-enter your home only once, remove your valuables (and document their removal for the purposes of your insurance claim), and secure your property.
- If you can re-enter for a longer period, take supplies with you including a flashlight, drinking water, gloves, garbage bags, a first aid kit, and drinking water.
- Before entry, walk around the perimeter of the structure and assess the damage yourself. Check the electrical wiring, smell for gas leaks, and be on the lookout for debris that could fall and hurt someone. Now is a good time to begin photographing the damage.
- Use caution as you enter the structure. Check the main breaker and ensure it is turned off. There may be electrical damage that you have not seen.
- Restrict the use of generators to the outdoors; due to possible electrical damage, do not connect generators to your household circuit.
- Check for damage to your sewage and water connections. Do not use sewage disposal unless you know that the municipal sewage system and your connection can handle it.
- Have suppliers inspect and service connections for gas or propane before them turning them back on.
The B.C. Government recommends that you avoid drinking tap water after a mass evacuation and discard any spoiled food that could have been affected by power outages, unsafe temperatures, smoke or ash, or water. Discard any food that has been in a freezer without power for more than three days. Spoiled food is covered by Personal Contents insurance and you may include the cost in your insurance claim.
Tips for Your Insurance Claim
As you re-enter your home, there are some steps you can take to make the insurance claim process easier. If there has been damage to your home, your home insurance policy should cover:
- Structure / Dwelling repairs or rebuilding;
- Additional Living Expenses related to the loss of use of your home; and
- Personal Property and Contents, covering damaged personal property, including food that may have spoiled due to power outages or fire and smoke damage.
Following these tips as you re-enter your home can help smooth the later steps of your insurance claim:
#1 Document Your Home
As you inspect the damage to the interior and exterior of your home, take photos and videos. You can also write down types of damage for further details that may be harder to discern from a photo alone.
#2 Contact Your Insurer
If you have not already opened a claim, write your intention to do so to the insurance provider as soon as possible. A mass evacuation order can leave your family with little time to prepare or think, but you must contact your insurance provider quickly to inform them of any damage to your home or expenses you intend to claim.
#3 Determine Your Home’s Livability
As you evaluate the damage done to your home, determine if your home is livable. Conditions that may make it unlivable include structural damage, electrical damage, water damage, or smoke damage. Even if your home is only affected by smoke damage, it may be unlivable. There are serious risks to inhaling particulate matter caused by smoke.
#4 Review Your Insurance Policy
Review the Declaration Pages of your insurance policy which are a summary of your coverages; and also review the full policy language if you have that on hand, as this is where some key terms and limitations will appear. You may need to contact your insurance provider for an updated policy, as limits often rise with inflation.
#5 Create a Schedule of Loss
If your home or personal property has been damaged by fire or smoke, begin creating a Schedule of Loss. This is a document listing out what personal property items have been damaged for the insurance adjuster to use.
To better understand your insurance policy, check this out for a glossary of terms. Virani Law can also guide you through your Declaration Pages and long-form insurance.
We negotiate on your behalf with the insurance company to ensure that you receive an adequate insurance settlement. You can speak with a legal professional who understands insurance. There may be disputes over the specifics of your settlement, such as the extent of damage or the eligibility of certain claims.
A lawyer with home insurance experience can ensure that you and your family are awarded a fair settlement that covers all your legitimate claims. It’s your job to look after your family and recover after a natural disaster like a wildfire. It’s our job to help you with the insurance process.