Forest fires: A three-step process

2 min.

Follow our tips to stay safe in the event of a wildfire and learn about resources to consult in the event of a disaster.

The wildfires raging in several parts of Quebec and Canada remind us of the importance of having general insurance coverage. Here’s what you need to know.

Forest fires typically occur between May and September and have been particularly problematic in 2023. The Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) recently pointed out that “home insurance contracts cover fire damage, whether it’s a fire originating inside or outside the residence.” That’s one piece of good news!

If you’re insured under a homeowners policy and you’re prohibited from returning to your home or are subject to an evacuation order by the authorities, you could also be entitled to reimbursement of additional living expenses for up to 14 days. And in the event of damage to your home, these additional living expenses are also covered for the period of time required to repair the damage, depending on the amount of insurance stipulated in the contract.

Damage to vehicles is covered under your auto insurance policy provided you have all perils coverage, coverage for risks other than collision or upset or coverage for specified perils.

Nevertheless, here are a few things you can do to protect your family and your assets from wildfires before, during and after this kind of event.

Forest fires: Be prepared for all possible scenarios

1 – Stay informed. Monitor regional news for forest fire bans and warnings. Visit the Société de protection des forêts contre le feu (SOPFEU) website to get an overview of the situation.

2 – Check your smoke detectors. This tip applies to all homeowners and tenants, regardless of forest fires! Replace the batteries in your smoke detectors when you change your clocks in the spring and fall, and make sure the devices are in good working order. Plan to replace them at least every 10 years.

3 – Be careful with cigarette butts. If you or a guest is smoking outside your home, extinguish the cigarette butt by wetting it and crushing it on a rock. Then dispose of it in a suitable container. Materials like cedar mulch are highly flammable.

4 – Store hazardous products properly. Gas, solvents and other materials that could catch fire should be stored at least 10 metres from your home. A bit further is even better!

5 – Pick up dead leaves from around your home. Remove the dead leaves and potentially flammable waste that sometimes accumulate on your property. You should also establish a firebreak zone—a treeless space between the forest and your home—to reduce the intensity of a potential fire.

6 – Prepare an emergency kit. The government recommends having an emergency kit on hand that contains a 72-hour supply of food, water and other necessities to help you survive at home in case of an unforeseen event, like a prolonged power outage.

7 – Update your home inventory. Draw up a list of your assets and indicate the value of each one. Take photos or videos of the items and update this list regularly. All home insurance policies have a reimbursement limit for furniture and other valuables. An inventory will facilitate the claims process.

8 – Check your insurance policies. Under certain conditions, fire damage is covered under home and auto insurance policies. Take the time to review your policies and contact Customer Service if you need more details about your coverage. Keep a copy of the policy on your smart phone; in an emergency, it’s more practical than a paper copy!

When a wildfire forces you to evacuate

9 – Accept the situation. Follow public safety instructions and recommendations to make your evacuation as easy and safe as possible.

10 – Protect your home. Before you leave, lock all doors and windows. Activate your alarm system if you have one. Since you probably won’t know how long you’ll be away, bring essential items for all family members.

11 – Don’t forget about Fido and Fluffy. Keep your pets safe. Ideally, bring them with you to wherever you'll be staying temporarily—as long as the rules allow it, of course.

12 – Plan your itinerary. Before you hit the road, check the road conditions on the Québec 511 site. Wildfires can block roadways, so have a plan B. And whatever your means of transport, obey all traffic signs. Lastly, always let your loved ones know where you’re going and the route you plan to take.

13 – Make sure your vehicle is in good working order. This is probably not the time to call for roadside assistance. Plan to fill up on gas at regular intervals.

14 – Pay attention to air quality. Keep your car windows closed. Circulate the air inside the cabin. Smoke from wildfires is made up of different pollutants that have a direct impact on ambient air quality, and therefore on your health.

Forest fires: What to do when you return home

15 – Play the role of building inspector. If the authorities allow it and there’s no threat to your safety, you can return to your home. Walk around the house, both inside and out, to identify any damage or potential hazards.

16 – Declare the loss as soon as possible. Contact your insurer right away to provide details about the loss. Now is the time to document any claims you may have. The onus is on you to prove your losses. Your job will be that much easier if you’ve followed tip number 7 above!

Annual insured losses related to extreme weather events in Canada.

Source: IBC

Three invaluable resources on the subject

Chambre de l’assurance de dommages: Step by step: what to do when a loss occurs

Government of Quebec: Forest fires in Québec

Insurance Bureau of Canada: L’assurance habitation en cas d’incendie (in French only)

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