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Fort McMurray Wildfire Insurance Claims: What You Need to Know

Home Insurance

By Romana King | May 11, 2016

As the wildfire situation in Fort McMurray continues to stabilize insurance companies are sending in their mobile response units, known as Catastrophe Teams (CAT) or Natural Catastrophe Teams (NCT). These units are staffed with people specifically trained to assess the damage caused by the wildfire. They will be assessing the value of the losses on over 2400 Fort McMurray and surrounding area structures that were damaged during the wildfires that raged throughout northern Alberta during the last week.

In an effort to expedite the claims process, most insurance companies established temporary claims offices at evacuation centres.

Here’s what you need to do if you’re making a claim due to the Fort McMurray wildfire:

  1. Call your insurance provider.
  2. Track your evacuation expenses.
  3. Understand your additional living expense coverage.
  4. Prepare for the claims process.
  5. Start a list of your personal belongings (if you don’t have an updated home inventory).

We’ll also discuss when you’ll pay your deductible and how long the claims process will take.

1. Call your insurance provider.

The first step is to call your insurance provider or broker. We’re here to answer your questions and help you through the claims process. We can help you understand what to expect and what will likely be covered. You will start the claims process (for at least the evacuation).

If you don’t know who your insurance company or broker is, you can contact 1-877-227-5422 or email your questions or concerns to [email protected]. The phone line and email are staffed by the Insurance Bureau of Canada and they will help you track down your insurance policies and what coverage you have.

Contacting your insurance provider is essential but it’s not urgent. By calling or contacting your insurance provider you are initiating a claim—the formal request to an insurance company asking for a payment based on the policy terms you agreed to and paid for. Waiting an extra day or two or more won’t hinder a claim but it will add time to the process as a claim doesn’t start until you call.

2. Track your evacuation expenses.

Most property insurance policies cover additional living expenses while you’re under an evacuation order due to an insured peril, such as a wildfire. This coverage helps cover the additional living expenses incurred while you’re forced from your home. However, to be reimbursed. you will need to keep receipts.

Bought a bottle of water at a gas station? Keep the receipt. Had to eat at restaurants during your evacuation? Keep the receipts. Bought some clothes as you had none with you? Keep the receipts.

While not every expense may be covered the only chance you have of being reimbursed is whether or not you can produce a receipt.

3. Calculate your additional living expense coverage.

Your policy only covers a limited amount of additional living expenses. It’s important to review your policy to understand how much coverage you have and what it applies to. Remember, if your home was damaged, it may be some time before you’ll be able to go home. It will also take time for evacuation orders to be lifted and for neighbourhoods to be assessed.

Insurance companies do not take over mortgage payments nor will they pay off other loans such as car loans, personal lines of credit or credit card bills. In the case of Fort McMurray, many lending institutions have indicated that they will work with those impacted by this devastating catastrophe. Be sure to contact your provider about what they can do for you.

4. Prepare for the claims process.

Most of us don’t have a lot of experience in making an insurance claim. We recommend assessing the damage done by taking photos and video if it is safe to do so.

The insurance company will send an adjuster to assess the damage but your evidence and documentation can help expedite the process. Unless your insurance provider has specifically given you the thumbs up, avoid making repairs or cleaning up your property. Leave things as they are until your insurance adjuster has examined the site and authorized you to go in and clean up.

Keep in mind, the claims process may take some time, especially given the scope of the catastrophe.

Your broker is here if you have questions or concerns about your claims process.

5. Start a list of the personal belongings that have been lost

Create a list of property that was damaged or destroyed. If you have an existing home inventory, that’s great! But many people don’t.

Start by going through each room and writing down what you remember. Ask family members to do the same and combine lists. If possible, look at pictures or videos of your home to jog your memory.

Next, see if you have pictures or receipts for the items. You may also be able to find the exact item online.

Your insurer may ask for receipts or valuation certificates for high value items such as jewellery or expensive camera equipment. This may not be the case if you have a total loss of your home, but anything you have will help.


When to pay the deductible?

The deductible is the portion you pay out of pocket for any claim you make on your insurance policy. The higher the deductible, the more you pay more towards the claim or the cost of the repair.

However, some insurance providers will actually waive the deductible if your loss is over a certain amount while other providers won’t ask you to pay the deductible if this is your first claim. This varies by insurer, so talk to your broker to see if you qualify.

How long will the claims process take?

It will depend on how long the evacuation order is in place, how quickly properties can be assessed, and how much damage has been done. Next, contractors need to be brought in to do repairs or rebuild, which will also require a lot of materials. It’s further complicated as many homeowners are filing claims at the same time. Essentially, the claims process could take some time.

Remember, every insurance company is different. Your coverage may be different from your neighbour’s coverage. Some insurers may use preferred vendors (companies that are vetted and approved by the insurance company) whose work will be guaranteed or have a warranty.

If you have concerns about your claim or are not sure what’s going on, give your broker a call and they can help.

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