Insurance industry braces itself during BC wildfires

Published: August 16, 2017

Updated: July 24, 2018

Author: Luke Jones



In British Columbia, the battle against wildfires rages on. Fire teams are still trying to keep blazes contained throughout the province and insurance companies are left thinking about ways to deal with the claims fallout.

The latest information from the Government of Canada shows there are over 125 wildfires larger than 0.01 hectares in BC. The province has been hit hard by fire this summer and already 606,057 hectares have been burned. Insurance companies have already begun preparation by halting the sale of insurance after personal and commercial claims started to rise.

After last year’s Fort McMurray wildfire, companies know that the losses could be huge. Fort Mac cost the industry around $3.5 billion and left many companies on the brink and most without profit for the whole of 2016.

While lessons were learned, companies are steadying themselves for the impact of wildfires in British Columbia:

“For the Interior … their issue is that any new business, from the insurance company point of view, is that you can’t buy coverage,” CMW Insurance Services division leader Gordon Li told Business Insurance in Vancouver. “If someone says they are going to move their insurance or if they didn’t have insurance before, unfortunately we won’t be able to do that for them.”

“What we see is the geographical moratorium on insurers issuing new insurance policies,” said Valley First regional sales leader Garrett Jones. “Some of our major domestic insurance companies that we deal with have completely stopped doing coverage in the Interior … they are at capacity with claims.”

The Insurance Bureau of Canada says that the scale of the BC fires present problems. For example, it is hard for insurers to stay in contact with clients:

“We have had upward of 50,000 people forced outside their home across a very wide geography of this province, which created a whole host of unique challenges in terms of reaching those individuals to make sure they were getting the assistance they needed,” said Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) Pacific vice-president Aaron Sutherland.

“A standard insurance claim can often be mailed to you [but] during an evacuation order you can’t mail anyone their support or additional living expenses while outside their home,” Sutherland added.