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Alberta Wildfires: What You Need to Know

Business Insurance

By Samantha Lemna | September 13, 2017

The long stretch of hot weather and dry conditions have created an extremely dangerous fire risk throughout British Columbia and Alberta. Unfortunately, many fires have been raging throughout the summer in BC and across the border in the United States. Despite best efforts of firefighters a few of these wildfires have crossed into Alberta namely from the west in Banff National Park and from the south in Waterton National Park. We’ve put together this article to help you protect your home and business from wildfire damage prepare for evacuation and make a claim in the event you must evacuate or there is damage or destruction to your property.

Protect Your Home from Alberta Wildfires

The best thing you can do for your home or business is to take action long before the threat of wildfire is present. This includes creating a defensible zone around your home or business improving the building’s fire resistance and making your property emergency services-friendly.

Create a Defensible Zone

Remove any flammable materials from a ten-metre radius around your home business or outbuildings. This includes dry grass, dead vegetation and any easily combustible plants such as pine trees. This area can be made further fire resistant with non-flammable landscaping such as rocks, stones, sand and low-moisture plants; if you must have grass make sure it’s mowed and well-watered.

After that first ten metres, the next twenty metres (or until your property line) should be about reducing fuel available to fires. This is done mostly through vegetation management. Remove dying or dead plants regularly and prune your trees so that they are three to six metres apart with no branches closer than two metres from the ground.

If your property extends beyond this you should focus on thinning the understory area of any forests and providing adequate crown spacing for your trees. The crown spacing is approximately three to six metres wide, ideally.

If you have fire pits or burn barrels, keep them at least three metres from any building or combustible material. Never leave them unattended while they are lit and ensure they’re properly ventilated. Spark or ember screens can help reduce the risk of fire. You should also keep a water source or fire extinguisher nearby to quench the flames if needed.

If you store firewood on your property you’ll need to store it at least ten metres from any building, preferably in a fire-resistant box or tarp.

If you have livestock that you cannot, ensure your pasture has native tree species only and that there are no overhead power lines or poles in the pasture they will be in. Woven wire fencing is a much better option than barbed wire. There should be at least one acre of open space to help your animals avoid debris. You’ll want to tag animals if possible in order to identify them in case they get loose.

Creating a Fire Resistant Building

Building materials definitely matter when it comes to fire resistance. Embers are a big concern as they can easily set roofs ablaze or get into gutters and vents and start fires there. Keeping these areas free of flammable materials such as leaves is important – keep gutters and vents cleaned and screened if at all possible. You should also keep overhanging branches clear of your home or business.

The best fire-resistant roofing options are metal or tile or treated asphalt shingles. Stucco, metal, brick and concrete are the best options for exterior walls. Logs provide some fire-resistance but wood and vinyl are very flammable.

Heat can go through windows and ignite the interior of a building. Tempered and thermal windows and doors are your best option with smaller double-paned windows being a second choice. The bigger the window the less stable it is and the higher the chance it will break due to heat stress and allow fire inside. Heavy curtains can also help protect the interior of your home or business as well. Storm shutters are another option as long as they’re metal.

Make Your Property Emergency Services-Friendly

It’s extremely important that your property is safe and accessible for emergency services personnel. Your gates and driveway should be wide enough to allow a fire engine to pass through and there should be space to turn around.

An additional water source such as a dug out, pond or water tank can also help to fight the fire.

Insurance for Wildfires in Alberta

Luckily, wildfires are an insured peril in Alberta. This means you’ll be covered if a wildfire damages your home or business.

Ensure you have adequate home or business insurance before disaster strikes. Keep in mind that you will not be able to change or update your insurance coverage if your home or business is currently under threat of wildfire or an evacuation alert has been issued. This is because many insurance companies place restrictions where you cannot purchase or change your insurance coverage while an area has an active wildfire. This prevents people from intentionally not insuring their property or under-insuring it and purchasing coverage as their home or business is damaged.

Contact your broker to discuss your policy today. They can explain your coverages to you as well as what you’re eligible for in case of emergency. You should review your policy at least once per year to ensure you’re adequately insured and to update your contact information.

Emergency Planning and Kit

It’s important to have a plan for an emergency and evacuation before you’re in such a situation. This will help you remain calm and ensure you get out safely and quickly without leaving necessities behind.

For Your Home

  • Create an inventory of all of your personal belongings. Be very thorough. Take photos and video of your home’s interior and exterior. If you have time, list each item. If you have receipts, save them or make a digital copy.
  • Create digital and paper copies of all your important documents. Store them online in a could (such as google docs or dropbox) and keep paper copies in a fireproof safe or at an alternate location.
  • Keep your valuables together if you can to make them easier to quickly grab.
  • Make an evacuation plan with your family. Everyone should know where they need to go and what they need to do. Be sure to have a location to meet as well as an alternate further away (such as a relative’s house). Don’t forget about your pets or livestock either!
  • Prepare an emergency kit that includes non-perishable food, water, clothing, bedding (like sleeping bags), lights, toiletries, medications, copies of important documents, first aid kit and comfort items.
  • If you have pets make sure you have a crate or carrier to transport them in. You’ll need enough water and food for each animal for up to 72 hours. Don’t forget their medications and important documents such as medical records and vaccination information. You should also have your pets microchipped or tattooed in addition to having a collar with your phone number.
  • For livestock, if you are able to evacuate them you should arrange for an evacuation location and transportation ahead of time if at all possible. You should have an updated list of all of your animals and keep important records (such as vaccinations feeding tests and registration) with you. Ensure all of your animals are sufficiently identified; you may need to spray paint numbers onto them if they are not microchipped or have any other visible method of identification. For your emergency kit, have first aid supplies and handling equipment including halters, cages and blankets as appropriate. You should also have a pair of bolt-cutters in case you need to quickly free an animal. Don’t forget enough water and feed to keep everyone fed for 72 hours – with buckets to deliver food and water in. Sanitation supplies are also a good idea for biosecurity and to protect the health of your animals.

For Your Business

  • Create a business inventory of your office and stock.
  • Create digital and paper copies of all important documents. Store paper copies in a fireproof safe or at an alternate location.
  • Establish an alert system to notify employees of what is going on.
  • Prepare an evacuation plan for your employees. They need to be aware of what they need to do and where they need to go if they need to evacuate. You should also draw up a plan of what to do if the evacuation notice comes during hours when your business is not open.
  • Ensure your business will be as secure as possible during the evacuation – close windows lock doors secure outbuildings and activate security systems if you have them.

FEMA is an excellent resource for emergency planning for businesses and how to continue operations after a disaster.

Useful Apps

  • The Insurance Bureau of Canada has a home inventory app that is an excellent resource for creating a home inventory and invaluable if you need to make a claim.
  • The Red Cross provides an app with first aid information 911-integration and emergency/disaster advice – and you can use it without internet.
  • Twitter and Facebook are also excellent resources during times of crises although it’s important to not trust all the information you read on social media. Follow local government accounts and news channels for the best information.

Claims for Alberta Wildfires

Unfortunately, it is not always possible to save every home or business. In major disasters such as wildfires, insurance companies mobilize special response units in order to help process claims quickly and provide guidance and assistance to their customers. They will generally be located in a nearby community where there is an evacuation centre – information will be posted on social media websites and emailed to affected customers. If you don’t have your policy documents or don’t even know who you’re insured with contact IBC at 1-844-227-5422 and they’ll be able to help.

Call Your Insurance Provider or Broker

This is essential but not urgent. Get yourself safe first. The claims process will begin when you initiate it with your insurance provider. Your broker is there to help guide you through this process explain what’s is covered and give you an idea of what to expect.

Keep Your Receipts

To be reimbursed for evacuation expenses you must keep your receipts – for everything and anything. While not every expense may be covered the only chance you have of being reimbursed rests on if you can produce a receipt. Bought water at the gas station? Bought extra clothes as you had to leave some behind? Ate a restaurant during the evacuation period? Booked a hotel room to stay in? Keep the receipts!

Additional Living Expense Coverage

Once evacuation orders have been lifted residents are able to return to their homes and businesses to assess the damage. If you find you cannot live in your home your insurance coverage will provide additional living expenses which cover costs – but only up to your policy limit. You’re not off the hook for your mortgage or other loans and you must track all your expenses and keep all receipts and invoices to ensure you’ll get your money back.

Your business may also be eligible for additional funding depending on your coverage. Contact your broker for more information.

Prepare for the Claims Process

Once it is safe to do so, assess the damage as best you can. Take pictures and videos. If you haven’t already, create an inventory list and note what was damaged or destroyed. If you have receipts, warranties, manuals, photos, valuation certificates and any other documentation associated with your belongings, gather it now and prepare to present it to an adjuster.

Your insurance company will send an adjuster to survey the damage and be in contact with you regarding what was lost. Remember you can always contact your broker with any questions you might have during this process.

Paying the Deductible

The deductible is the amount you pay out of pocket on a claim before your insurance kicks in. The higher your deductible the more you pay towards the claim or cost of repair/replacement. Some insurance companies will waive the deductible if your loss is over a certain amount while others won’t ask you to pay it if you’ve been claims free for a certain period of time. You won’t be asked to pay until the damage has been assessed.

The Waiting Game

Wait until your insurance company has given you official approval before you begin to clean up your property or make repairs. The adjuster must be able to view your property and surveyed the damage. They will give their authorization when this is done.

Never attempt clean-up or repair unless you have the adequate skills and tools. To do otherwise can cause serious injury to yourself or others.

Once it is time to rebuild, your insurance company will present a list of preferred vendors which are companies they have vetted and approved. While you do not have to use these companies their work will be guaranteed or under warranty. Some insurance providers will let you do your own repairs as well so discuss this with them if you’d prefer to pursue this course of action.

Keep in mind that every insurance company is different and everyone will have different policies offering different coverages. Two neighbours or businesses may have very different experiences. Keep the lines of communication open with your insurance provider – they are there to help you recover.

The length of time it will take for your claim to be resolved will depend on how severe and complex your claim is. Disasters make the situation more difficult as there are many people who are affected and are also filing claims. Things will take time though everyone will be working their hardest to get things solved.

Your insurance broker is here to answer any questions and help your through this process. Don’t hesitate to contact them!

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