Outsmart BC’s wildfire season with a good defense using the BCAA Wildfire Checklists
If the last few years are any indication, 2019 could be another bad year for forest fires in BC. Last year, over 2,000 wildfires burned 1.3 million hectares throughout the province, surpassing the previous record set in 2017. And this year’s wildfire season has already gotten an early start.
If you live in a wildfire-prone area, here’s a series of 4 important checklists to strengthen your defenses around your home and for your family. We’ve also included some frequently asked insurance questions to help you stay informed and prepared.
Checklist #1: Create a 10-metre defensible space around your home
Fifty percent of home fires caused by wildfires are started by airborne sparks and embers, which can travel as far as two kilometres beyond an approaching wildfire. Simple measures—particularly 10 metres around your home—can help.
1. Clear away fuel sources
Remove plants, leaves, twigs and dried grasses that can catch fire easily. Prune tree branches within two metres of the ground and keep your grass well-trimmed. Store any woodpiles a good distance away from your home.
2. Clean your roof
Embers from nearby wildfires often land on roofs which can ignite any debris or dry leaves laying on your roof. Clean your rooftop, including the gutters and corners where debris tends to collect. If you’re renovating or building a new home, consider fire-proofing your roof by using nonflammable materials like asphalt shingles, metal, slate or tile. Speak to a local roofing professional about options.
3. Check under your deck
Embers can also collect and ignite under your deck, especially if it’s laden with dried pine needles, leaves and other flammable fuel sources. Never store propane tanks or woodpiles under your deck.
4. Space out trees
Ensure there’s no direct path from the forest to your home. Make sure existing or newly planted trees are at least three metres apart from each other and 10 metres away from your home.
5. Add fire-resistant plants
Shrubs and trees with low sap, moist leaves and minimal accumulation of dead leaves can help to prevent the spread of wildfire. Avoid flammable plants with needles, resins, flaky bark and tall grasses. Mulch is also high flammable and best avoided.
6. Have the right tools within reach
Ensure you have easy access to shovels, rakes, axes, garden hoses, sprinklers and ladders to help suppress approaching wildfires.
Checklist #2: Keep your family safe
Get your family out safely by preparing ahead of time, before an emergency strikes. Go over your plans together and practice what to do.
1. Make an emergency plan and make sure your family knows it
Plan how you’ll get out of your home and your community should you be evacuated. Make sure your family, including young children, know your evacuation route, how you’ll communicate with each other and where to meet up if you get separated. Evacuations can happen on a moment’s notice, so advance planning is critical.
Example of a few items to include in an emergency kit.
2. Create an emergency kit
Prepare an emergency kit at home that can sustain you and your family for at least 72 hours. BCAA Members save 20% on emergency kits for home and personal use with our rewards partner F.A.S.T. (First Aid & Survival Technologies Limited). Learn more at www.bcaa.com/emergencykit.
Step one: Buy a ready-made kit or build your own which includes items listed on PreparedBC's recommended basic essentials.
Step two: Customize your kit to meet your needs. For example, regular medications, comfort items for children, or food for your pet.
Step three: Put your kit in a place that's easy to get to. Prepare extra kits to keep in your car and at work.
3. Pack your essentials and key documents
Have a small bag of essentials packed and ready to go including personal items that you and your family will need should you have to leave home and stay elsewhere overnight. Include copies of personal identification, prescriptions and insurance papers.
4. Be visible
Ensure your home address can be seen by emergency responders. Be an advocate in your community for visible, fireproof street signs.
5. Ensure your car has enough gas in its tank
Wildfires can spread wide distances and smoke can spread even wider. Should you have to leave the area, you never know how far you’ll have to drive to get to a safe location or reach a gas station.
Checklist #3: Make sure you have the right coverage
Wildfires are just that, they’re ‘wild’ and we can’t predict what will happen when they strike. In addition to creating a defensible space around your home and preparing your family, review your insurance policies so you understand your coverage.
1. Keep all vehicles on your property insured
Keeping occasional-use recreational vehicles insured throughout wildfire season enables you to move them in the event of an evacuation. Basic liability insurance may be obtained to move uninsured vehicles to a safe location, but coverage for physical damage may not be available in fire-effected areas. Contact your insurance advisor for details.
2. Keep your home insurance up-to-date
It may be difficult to purchase home insurance as a natural disaster is unfolding, so make sure you’re covered for wildfire season. Know what coverage you have and whether you need to update your policy. Document your valuables with photos or video, including renovations to your home and yard. Speak to your home insurance advisor early on to go over your policy.
3. Move and document valuables
Transfer irreplaceable possessions and valuables to a safe storage location and take photos of anything that can’t be moved. Upload important documents and precious digital photos to a secured ‘cloud’ or onto a portable hard drive that you can encrypt for added security and take with you.
4. Get more tips from fire experts
Learn more about how you can protect your home and property against a forest fire with The Homeowner’s Manual from FireSmart BC. For questions about home insurance coverage in a forest fire, speak to your local insurance advisor.
Checklist #4: In the event of an evacuation
Notice of an evacuation can happen fast and at any time. Here are key to-dos to help you stay organized and informed.
1. Track your expenses
Keep your receipts for accommodation, meals and other out-of-the-ordinary expenses. Most home insurance policies will cover a certain amount of additional living expenses for those forced to evacuate their homes. As with any fire-related claim, the base policy deductible, which is usually $500, applies to additional living expenses.
2. Contact your insurance provider
To make a claim or to obtain emergency funds, contact your insurance company right away. Most companies have a 24-hour emergency claims line. BCAA’s 24-hour number is 1.888.268.BCAA (2222) or you can make a claim online at bcaa.com/makeaclaim
3. Connect with BCAA
When a major emergency strikes, like wildfires, our BCAA Community Support Team will be there to help our Members, insurance customers and the local community. Our team can help answer your questions and guide you through any insurance processes.
Frequently asked questions about insurance policies
Am I covered for a loss resulting from a wildfire?
Fire damage is covered under most home insurance policies and this includes damage from forest fires.
Am I covered for mass evacuation?
Most insurance policies will cover you for mass evacuation in the event of a wildfire as long as the government, police, fire department or civil authority has ordered you to leave your home. Your home insurance policy should cover any necessary and additional living expenses you incur up to your policy limits, and subject to the policy deductible. Keep a copy of all hotel and meal receipts to give to your insurance provider.
Are my belongings insured while I’m away from my home?
Most insurance policies will cover the items you take temporarily away from your home, just as they would if they were left in your residence.
Is smoke damage from the fires covered? Is damage incurred from fire retardant outside my home covered?
Most home insurance policies cover smoke damage caused from fires, as well as any damage incurred to your home or personal property from firefighting efforts, including the red fire retardant or other substances used by fire department personnel.
How do I file a claim?
If you have insurance coverage with BCAA and need to file a claim, call the 24-hour emergency claims number at 1.888.268.BCAA (2222). You can also make a claim online at bcaa.com/makeaclaim or visit a local BCAA Service Location to speak to an insurance advisor.