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Understanding Wildfire Insurance Claims in Alberta

When an evacuation order was issued in the town of High Level, Alberta, thanks to the threat of a massive, uncontrollable wildfire, over 5,000 residents were displaced. The ‘Chuckegg Creek fire’ blazed roughly three kilometers southwest of the town and expanded enough to where it dominated some 920 square kilometers of land. Thanks to the actions of the firefighters and support staff, everyone under threat of the danger was able to be evacuated safely.

Wildfires and major fire events, such as the recent Chuckegg Creek and Fort McMurray fires, largely affect the people whose homes are situated in the afflicted areas. They are responsible for an immeasurable amount of damage, and their erratic nature makes them difficult to predict. That’s why it’s important to ensure that your property and assets are protected under your home and business insurance.

Fire is covered by most property insurance policies, so if your home sustains damage you might be protected. Here is what you need to do to begin the process of your wildfire insurance claims.

Contact Your Insurance Provider

Victims of wildfires might find themselves in short-term accommodation. A lot of the time, very few of these people have ever had to deal with filing insurance claims. They may not know what their policy entails, if they’re covered, or even the name of the insurance company that they are covered by. Luckily, the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) is able to help those in this kind of situation. By calling the toll-free number (1-877-227-5422) or emailing to [email protected]. IBC is available to help out homeowners who need to track down all their insurance policy information and find out the information they need to file their claims immediately.

Your insurance broker will also be a good resource for you to use when it comes to navigating your claims. Their expertise in the matter will help you understand how your claims are dealt with and what help you can expect.

While it’s not necessarily urgent, contacting your insurance provider is vital to start the claims process. Essentially, this is a request to your insurance company asking for reimbursement according to the policy terms that you agreed for when you purchased your insurance. You won’t ruin the procedure by waiting a little while (although two years after the event is typically the limit –this varies by company), but this will prolong the amount of time it takes to get your claim processed.

Keep Record of Your Evacuation Costs

Following the event, you might acquire several evacuation expenses as a result of being displaced. These costs will be covered even if you did not start a claim, but you will need to pay up front. In most cases, your insurer will reimburse you later. They might send out an initial cheque for some amount and settle the final amount later. Here are some evacuation expenses you might incur:

  • If you purchased clothes to replace the ones you had to leave behind.
  • If you ate out at restaurants during the evacuation period.
  • If you purchased any residential utilities.
  • If you required toiletries that you were unable to pack in time.

Moreover, you might not be able to anticipate how long your evacuation period will last. These costs could extend to other necessities like laundry fees. Keep in mind that your insurance provider might only reimburse you for reasonable living expenses, the difference between your normal life and what you’re being forced to pay now due to evacuation. Not every expense will be covered by your policy.

Make certain that you keep track of all receipts you received throughout this time; this will help to settle the costs for reimbursement.

Determine Your Extra Living Expenses

In the unfortunate scenario where the evacuation order is repealed and you are allowed to return home only to find it uninhabitable, you will need to look elsewhere for temporary residence. This will result in additional living expenses:

  • Rent for a hotel or other living accommodations.
  • Necessary utility requirements, like toiletries and clothing.
  • Cost of food.

Your insurance provider will be able to reimburse you for some of these costs up to your policy limit. This only applies to necessary expenses, and won’t cover you for pointless costs like if you wanted to buy a movie ticket during this time.

Furthermore, insurance companies won’t take over loan payments, like if you were still paying a mortgage, a car loan, or a credit card bill. Some lending instructions have put forward, however, that they will still work with you if you are impacted by a natural disaster like a wildfire. Be sure to call them and see if this can apply to you should you find yourself in this scenario.

Document the Damage

If you have never filed for a claim before, you might be uncertain as to where you should start. Your insurance broker, insurer, and the IBC are all available to help you out with any questions you might have. Additionally, insurance companies generally have pretty straightforward processes for filing claims, so you won’t need to expend much energy on figuring it out.

It benefits you in the claims process if you document as much of the damage your property and belongings sustained as possible. Your insurance provider will send in their own adjuster, but they will not have the knowledge as to what your home was like before the fire. Photos and videos are excellent evidence for your claims.

Create an Inventory of Losses and Damages

You might want to consider making an inventory list. This can help you ensure you have proof of all that was lost or damaged. Look for any pictures, videos including these items, or receipts of their purchase. Should you have a pre-made home inventory list, this will help speed up the process in determining what was lost. This might also help remind you as to what was lost – and your friends and family will be able to help out also. If you’re having difficulty, try to imagine your space as it was before the wildfire. This can help you in assembling a more accurate list of what was lost.

Providing receipts, manuals, photos, warranties, or any sort of documentation which is associated with your belongings is very useful in this stage. This is especially particular to more high-value items you may have lost, like jewellery or technology equipment. Anything will help make the claims process go smoother. It’s alright if you don’t have everything too, so don’t stress too much about not having perfect records. Insurers don’t require it.

Paying Your Deductible

What you pay out of pocket towards the claim that you make on your policy is considered your deductible. The higher the ‘deductible’ is, the more you will have to pay towards the costs of repair and replacement.

It depends on the insurance company of course, but some providers are known to overlook the deductible as long as the total loss is over a certain amount. Some companies might not request the deductible if you haven’t made any claims in the past. This is called a disappearing deductible, where your deductible decreases by every year that you haven’t made a claim.

Wait It Out

At this point, you will need to be patient. Your insurance company has to give you approval before you proceed with cleaning up your property or starting on any repairs. The insurance adjuster will need time to examine the site. You should never begin clean-up or start on repairs unless you have the approval or the skills to do so.

Insurance coverage differs from company to company. Your coverage can be very different from your friend’s. Maintain communication with your provider. It is their goal to get you back to where you were preceding your loss.

Once everything is good to go, you can start with your rebuilding. Some insurance companies will have preferred vendors who have been screened and can offer you guarantees for their work. Other companies will let you do your own repairs or look for your own vendors.

The length it takes to settle your claim really depends on the severity and complexity. Especially in situations where others have been affected as well and there are a lot of other claims, it can take time. Insurance companies do their best to settle claims quickly and provide support during these times.

Your insurance broker is available to help. Call them with any questions you have.