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Okanagan wildfires add stress to house insurance sector

Central Okanagan homeowners scramble to assess insurance coverage
Wildfire damage of homes on the West Kelowna hillside overlooking Okanagan Lake became more widely apparent when the smoke from the Grouse Complex wildfires lifted from the valley on Wednesday. (File photo)

For those affected by the Grouse Complex wildfires, many will be scrambling to find their home insurance policies to determine their level of coverage.

Some will be leery of pursuing damage claims for fear of spiking their premiums, hoping that provincial government assistance might be another source of financial compensation for home damage or loss.

As of Thursday (Aug. 24), 88 properties in West Kelowna and the Westbank First Nation suffered damage from the McDougall Creek wildfire and 94 in the Regional District of Central Okanagan West Electoral Area.

The damage toll in Lake Country is three properties, while in Kelowna it is three homes and two outbuildings.

But Aaron Sutherland, regional vice-president for the Insurance Bureau of Canada, cautions homeowners that contacting their insurance carrier or the broker who sold them the policy should be an immediate first step.

“Insurance policies vary but generally standard that fire loss insurance includes coverage for lodging, additional food costs and other expenses if you are forced out of your home,” said Sutherland.

“Make sure you take advantage of those options that are provided under your policy.”

He also encourages people returning to their homes to closely check for smoke and heat damage around the exterior of their houses, such as door and window frames, to go over their insurance policy coverage for assistance with potential repairs.

Sutherland says he understands people sometimes have apprehensions about talking to their insurer, for fears starting a claim will lead ultimately to a higher premium.

“It is a bit of a confusing process at times but this is what insurance is here for,” he said.

To help relieve some of the confusion, Sutherland said IBC will have a team set up an information booth on Monday at the West Kelowna reception centre to answer general questions about insurance coverage.

“This is an anxious time for many folks so we want to be there face to face to answer some of those questions people have and help reduce that stress where we can,” Sutherland said.

He said while insurance generally provides replacement value for lost homes, it doesn’t account for the emotional loss of family or personal memorabilia, items that can’t be replaced and are often overlooked when an evacuation order is given with little advance notice.

“These events are always heartbreaking for those who lose their homes with or without insurance,” he said.

“Insurance coverage can help someone put their house back together but nothing can replace what you have personally lost.”

Sutherland acknowledged extreme weather events are a global issue bringing financial pressure on the insurance industry.

In B.C., he said flood insurance is not offered in some areas because of floodplain exposure, but at this point, fire insurance remains the core business of the industry.

“It feels like we are setting new records every other year for wildfires and hectares burned…that is a concern and does place pressure on insurance premiums,” he said.

“It places a greater emphasis on communities doing all they can do to ensure adequate protections are in place.

“We are getting a better handle on flood events…while it’s a little bit different dealing with fires, but there are things we can do…”

Some of those wildfire protections, he said, include implementing FireSmart home protection measures, better building code practices and carrying out other forest fire fuel management initiatives, particularly around high-risk areas such as the Okanagan.

“The reality is now it seems to be getting hotter and drier every summer so the fire risk continues to be elevated moving forward,” he said.

READ MORE: North Westside’s Fintry and La Casa evacuation orders lifted

READ MORE: Significant damage in West Kelowna Estates/Westside Road from McDougall Creek wildfire

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Barry Gerding

About the Author: Barry Gerding

Senior regional reporter for Black Press Media in the Okanagan. I have been a journalist in the B.C. community newspaper field for 37 years...
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