What Fort McMurray residents can expect following the wildfire

May 4, 2016

(Vancouver, BC): As the city of Fort McMurray faces a complete evacuation order, residents may be wondering what happens next. Weather conditions make it difficult to predict which neighborhoods will be further affected, and residents who have already suffered losses now face the road to recovery. Many wonder if insurance will cover their losses, or if coverage will be denied due to an “Act of God.”

All home insurance policies in Canada cover loss or damage caused by wildfire. This means that homeowners, condo owners and tenants who suffer losses in this event can look to their insurance provider for assistance. In some cases, your policy may cover additional living expenses you incur as a result of the evacuation. Common expenses include temporary accommodations.

You can also rest assured that your policy should respond to fire, smoke or water damages sustained to your home and belongings that result from the wildfire.

Evacuating my home is expensive. Will insurance help with these extra costs?

Most home insurance policies in Canada include coverage for additional living expenses incurred as a result of a civil evacuation order. The amount of coverage can vary depending on the policy you have purchased, but it’s a basic feature included in most policies. Be sure to keep track of additional expenses that you incur, which could include:

  • Hotel bills
  • Restaurant expenses
  • Personal care costs: toiletries, etc.

While your policy will not pay for ordinary day-to-day expenses that continue during the evacuation, you will likely be entitled to claim the additional costs that you incur as a result of the evacuation order.

Who should I contact for claims support?

Contact your insurance provider right away if you have been ordered to evacuate, or if your home has already suffered damage from the fire. Your insurance provider will open a claim file, set aside resources to assist you, and keep in touch with you throughout the crisis.

Your insurance provider’s claims number can be found in your policy package or on its website. Square One customers can report a claim directly using their online account, or call 1.855.331.6933 and press 2 when prompted. When you call your insurance company, make sure you have 5 to 10 minutes of time for a thorough conversation, and try to have the following information on hand:

  • Your insurance policy number.
  • Contact information for yourself.
  • Details regarding the date of evacuation or damage.

Depending on your immediate needs, your insurance provider may be able to issue an immediate advance payment for emergency expenses that you incur during the evacuation. Insurance providers are likely taking a great many new claims as a result of this catastrophe; Square One customers can rest assured that an adjuster will be in touch with all possible urgency.

How will a claim work?

For most insurance customers, your policy deductible will apply. Your deductible, which you chose when you purchased your policy, is the amount of any loss that you must pay personally before your insurance company steps in to pay the rest. Your policy document will show this deductible, and your insurance providers claims staff can confirm this for you.

For the time being, most residents of Fort McMurray will need to wait and see what happens during the evacuation. Many homes will remain undamaged, while others may suffer fire or smoke damage that will need repair or even total reconstruction.

Once the evacuation order has been lifted, residents will be able to return home to determine the extent of damage that their homes may have suffered. When you go back home:

  • Take caution and be alert for downed power lines, debris, slick surfaces and other hazards that could injure you.
  • Check your home carefully for any hidden embers, smouldering fires, or pools of trapped water from firefighting efforts.
  • Document loss or damage right away, before it can be obscured by weather or clean-up activities. Take pictures of any damaged structures and personal property, and keep them in a safe place to provide to your insurance company in support of your claim.

My home was damaged by fire, or even burned to the ground. What now?

It’s now time for you to repair or rebuild. This will be a lengthy process:

  • Municipal authorities will need to complete their remediation work before residents will be permitted to remove debris, and file for building permits.
  • If a great many homes have been affected, Fort McMurray will experience “demand shock” – this is when the demand for materials and labour skyrockets as a result of many homeowners attempting to rebuild at once. This may cause the cost of materials and labour to rise sharply within the region. The good news is, most home insurance policies provide “guaranteed replacement cost coverage.” This means that your insurance company will pay the increased cost to rebuild your home, and you won’t be on the hook for price increases that are beyond your control.
  • While home insurance policies can differ in some respects, most claims for repair or rebuilding will follow a similar process: damage will be quantified, repair or rebuilding estimates will be obtained, and the work will take place.
  • Keep in mind that the process of repairing or rebuilding after a citywide catastrophe is slow and challenging. Your insurance provider and adjuster will be there for you, to provide the money you need to recover and to help guide you through the process, but reconstruction won’t happen overnight. This process is likely to take a long time.

I don’t have insurance. What can I do?

Government financial assistance is often very limited in the case of losses for which private insurance was available, which often includes wildfire. However, existing government and charitable agencies may be able to assist residents who did not purchase insurance prior to this crisis.

The Alberta Emergency Management Agency is a provincial agency whose purpose is to create relief programs that offer financial help to those who have property damaged as the result of a disaster. Their intent is to help replace essential property that could not be covered by other means.

To see if a disaster recovery program has been put in place for the Fort McMurray wildfire, visit www.aema.alberta.ca or call 1.888.671.1111. On the AEMA website you can also obtain application forms, learn more about the types of damages and losses that qualify, and read more advice on how to recover after a disaster.

This is one of the most emotional experiences of my life. How can I cope?

If the process of evacuation and recovery is becoming more than you can handle, reach out to local counselling services for help. The American Psychological Association has also published free guidance for individuals suffering from a wildfire catastrophe, to learn more visit www.apa.org/helpcenter/wildfire.

What steps can I take as the evacuation order is lifted?

There are several important steps you should take as you begin the recovery process. For more information, click the button below to review our second article.

Steps to recovery from the Fort McMurray