Many Albertans own properties in the Okanagan area and love to spend their summers playing on the shores of one of the three arms of the Shuswap Lake. The area has special meaning for many of this province, and it was devastating to watch as some of our favourite summer playgrounds fell victim to this summer’s wild wildfire season. One victim was the venerable Lake Okanagan Resort, which had been receiving guests to its 217 units since the 1970s.
It is unclear as of yet whether the resort will be rebuilt, but what is known is that the damage from the two major wildfires — Okanagan (McDougall Creek) and Shuswap (Bush Creek East) — is more than $720 million in insured losses, according to initial estimates from Catastrophe Indices and Quantification Inc. That puts it at the most costly natural disaster of 2023, and the 10th most expensive in Canada’s history.
“This year’s wildfire season has broken all records in terms of the amount of land burned and damage caused to homes and businesses in BC,” said Aaron Sutherland, vice-president, Pacific and Western of the Insurance Bureau of Canada. “The wildfires’ impact is another tragic reminder of the risk BC residents face due to climate change and the increasing frequency of natural catastrophes.”
Damages broken down
There were two separate fires that caused the $720 million in insured losses. From Aug. 15 to Sept. 21, the McDougall Creek, Clark Creek, and Walroy Lake wildfires burned in the central Okanagan Valley. These three fires caused evacuations on both sides of Okanagan Lake and structural damage to the communities of West Kelowna, Kelowna, and Lake Country.
Seventy homes were affected in West Kelowna and 20 more in the Westbank First Nation. Three homes and two outbuildings were lost in Kelowna, and three more in Lake Country.
The three fires resulted in $480 million in insured damages.
The Bush Creek East fire began in July, but as it was in a relatively unpopulated area of the Shuswap authorities were initially not worried about major damages. That changed on Aug. 18, when the fire began spreading rapidly, causing the evacuation of more than 3,500 properties. It raged through the communities of North Shuswap, including Scotch Creek and Celista, and caused major damage to properties in communities north of Shuswap Lake. Unfortunately, more than 270 properties have been confirmed to have been destroyed. There was also major damage to public infrastructure, including to hydro poles, which resulted in power outages for thousands of residents.
It’s worth remembering that the most expensive natural disaster in Canada’s history is another wildfire. The Fort McMurray fire of 2016 was catastrophic, requiring the evacuation of the entire town (more than 90,000 people), and resulting in a whopping $4.3 billion in damages.
Wildfires and your home insurance
Wildfire is considered an insured peril in Canada and damage is covered by all standard home and business insurance policies. As the incidence rate of wildfires continues to rise in Canada, with 2023 being the worst year on record by far, homeowners should do all they can to protect their properties.
If you live in a rural area where wildfires could occur, be sure to keep your property surrounded by what is called “defensible space.” Keep trees, brush, and firewood well away from your home, as they simply just add fuel for the fire. Your driveways, lawns, and gravel can act as a fuel break for the fire as well. Brush up on “Firesmart” landscaping techniques, such as keeping trees at least 10 feet apart and well pruned. Lower limbs should be removed to at least six feet above ground, and trees should not be planted within 30 feet of your home. Smaller shrubs can be planted five feet or more from your home.
Other ways to reduce damage caused by wildfire include:
- Do not store gas, propane, or other fuel under your deck or porch, or anywhere near your home.
- Always make sure your roof is in good condition and free from flammable debris.
- Install metal mesh screens over vents and under your deck to prevent embers from getting into the envelope of your home.
- All firewood should be kept at least 30 feet away.
- Keep forested areas thinned out, deadwood picked up off the ground, and trees spaced out from each other.
Canada’s “FireSmart Begins at Home” app allows homeowners to engage in voluntary wildfire mitigation activities through a self-conducted home assessment. It is available through both the Apple Store and Google Play.
Lane’s Insurance covers Alberta
Insurance brokers such as us at Lane’s work for you, not the insurance companies, which is why you can trust us more than the others. We have access to a number of different policies from Canada’s best insurance providers, which we can compare to find you excellent coverage at great rates. We know the right questions to ask to help you determine the right amount of coverage for your property and your belongings and can ensure your policy provides for living expenses while necessary repairs are being carried out to your home after a disaster. Our experienced account managers are here to provide the personalized support you need. You can rely on your broker for the professional service necessary to help you make a smart, educated decision about your home insurance. Contact us at our Calgary, Edmonton, Banff and Alberta offices.