Will Insurance Cover Property Damage from a Wildfire If You're Travelling?

This spring and summer have left a lot of Canadians worried about property damage from recent floods and forest fires. Alberta had fires and there was massive flooding in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick. It's enough to make you want to escape it all and go on a vacation, but if you're travelling, you might have concerns. Are you covered by your home insurance if your property is damaged when you travel overseas? The short answer is yes. But, in Canada, insurance laws are changing due to the growing wildfires.

What to Do If You're Caught in a Fire While Travelling

A wildfire can start suddenly in areas with dry grounds that haven't had a lot of rain. If you find yourself travelling in an area where a wildfire breaks out, use the following tips:

If you're home, at school or work

  • Listen on the news for areas and routes that are safe to use. Leave early so you don't get caught in a wildfire while you're driving.
  • If you're advised by local authorities to shelter in place, then do so. And, continue to listen for further announcements about areas that are being evacuated.

If you're driving

  • Don't panic. You need to get someplace safe and don't stay in your vehicle. It offers no protection from heat and is not safe. People use their vehicles as they likely cannot outrun a fire. The concern is that you can become badly burned in a vehicle or suffer from smoke inhalation.
  • If you can't get out of your vehicle, roll up all the windows and close the vents. Then turn on the air conditioner. Set it to recirculate.
  • Keep the engine on even if you need to stop the vehicle. Your gas tank should be fine because metal tanks don't immediately explode.
  • If the fire is bad and you can't get out of your vehicle, stay inside and call 911. Let them know your location so air, fire and rescue can find you.
  • If you're still driving, proceed with caution. Use your car horn if you need to. Turn on your hazard lights and high beams as visibility can worsen. Drive slow to avoid other vehicles, pedestrians and animals (wildlife, livestock).
  • Don't drive with heavy smoke as you can't see the roadways, signage or other vehicles. It might be better to park if the news or 911 state you are safe to wait for the fire to dissipate. Park near a large structure like a building which can help to block any radiant heat. Avoid parking near tall trees and overhead branches that can collapse. Avoid parking near combustibles.
  • Keep the news on so you can hear updates about where the fire is going. If you're uncertain of your location, use your vehicle's GPS or a compass from your smartphone.
  • If smoke gets into your vehicle, try to get on the floor of the vehicle and cover yourself with a coat or blanket. Ensure it's not synthetic as these can burn in a fire.
  • Drink water if you have it but put a little into a cloth and breathe through that.
  • Avoid panicking. Wildfires make loud noise and air currents that are extremely hot can shake the vehicle. Do not get out and make a run for it. This is very dangerous. Calm the fears of everyone inside that you will be evacuated soon and that air, fire and rescue are coming after you've called 911. You might have to yell to fellow passengers because the noise from a wildfire can be very loud. Air, fire and rescue needs to know your location as they may send planes with water overhead to douse nearby flames.
  • When the fire passes, call for help and seek medical attention for anyone that needs it.

If you're on foot

  • Stay calm and remind yourself you can confidently get through this. This will help you to strategize without panicking.
  • Cover your mouth with a damp piece of clothing or cloth. Douse it in water and breathe through that to help block any smoke.
  • As you move, stay upwind from the fire. The worst locations during a fire are downwind and uphill. Let the wind guide you. If it's blowing directly past you and toward a nearby fire, go into the wind. If the wind can be felt behind you and blows as it approaches you, travel perpendicularly. This can help you travel in a direction that avoids the fire and the course it's on. Take caution with sparks that can start new, smaller fires. These can travel hundreds of metres at a time. Avoid letting a fire surround you.
  • Try to get to an area that's open like a field. Fires need combustible materials like trees, bushes and shrubs to burn. Avoid these. An area where a fire already took place might be safe but watch out for smaller fires that can develop.

How Home Insurance Covers Fire Damage at Home

Having home insurance can protect you if there’s a flood or fire. Because no one wants to be without their belongings, it’s important to have adequate coverage. A typical home insurance policy includes coverage if a fire occurs but there are some notable exceptions.

Fire Damage from Lighting, Storms or Kitchen Mishaps

With your home (primary residence), home insurance should cover lightning strikes or wildfires. And, it will also cover damages if you have a fire in your kitchen.

A typical home insurance policy should include:

  • The dwelling: Coverage is for your home and an attached garage.
  • Your personal property: Coverage is for personal belongings (furniture, appliances and clothing). Your coverage will help to replace or repair them.
  • Damage to detached structures: Coverage is for sheds, fences, barns or garages located on your property.

Your policy might include coverage to reimburse you for hotel expenses and meals if you’re temporarily displaced. You will have to pay the deductible which typically ranges from $250 up to $1,000. However, there are two exceptions. One relates to valuables and the other with extended travel.

How Home Insurance Covers Valuable Items

If you have valuable jewellery, you might want to include additional coverage known as a rider. This is a provision to your insurance policy. It is added to a policy to cover expensive items like your jewellery or those custom-made golf clubs. Standard home insurance policies may have a cap or exception on what they reimburse for personal property.

Tip: When you start your policy, take photos of your belongings and keep these stored safely online. These can help if you ever need to file a claim for damages and you’re away from home.

Choosing Between Cash Value and Replacement Value

Your policy might cover you for the cash value of your items less depreciation over time. Or, it might cover your replacement value which sometimes costs more. As an example, if your older model computer was damaged in a fire, the cash value for it might be $50 to $100. But, the replacement value might give you more money to purchase a new computer.

Travelling for 30 Days or Longer?

Now here's the other exception. Let's say you have a second home overseas or you've rented a property overseas. If you’re away on an extended holiday, don’t vacate your primary residence in Canada for longer than 30 days. If you do, have someone check on it and check with your insurer. Some insurers won’t cover claims at your home if you are travelling for more than a month. You would need to look into a vacancy permit which can also help if you have a second home or vacation rental where you split your time.

And, make sure the home you're staying in has working smoke detectors and a fire extinguisher.

Safeguard Your Trip with the Right Insurance

Going on a vacation can be exciting especially if you're going overseas. Ensure you have home or tenant insurance and call your insurer to confirm that you will have coverage for property damage if you're away for an extended period of time. Start your search for the best home and tenant insurance by visiting Kanetix.ca.

With Kanetix.ca, you can compare insurance quotes from Canada's leading insurers and get the best home insurance.