Canadian insurer rolls out pilot to assist in wildfire home protection

Wildfires are already burning in parts of Western Canada and with warnings of a particularly active season yet again this year, the country’s largest property and casualty insurer is testing a pilot project to help eligible Canadians protect their homes.

Intact Financial Corporation on Tuesday announced a partnership with Montana’s Wildfire Defense Systems to provide eligible Albertans and British Columbians with loss prevention and suppression services when their homes are threatened by wildfires less than five kilometres away.

If a fire gets that close to the home, trained fire personnel will undertake tasks including the removal of materials around the property that could fuel a fire — like firewood or propane tanks — and covering exterior vents and closing exterior windows and doors. The crews may also set up temporary sprinkler systems, which would potentially temper fire activity nearby, but also fire retardant if necessary to prevent further damage to a home.

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Rosa Nelson, vice-president of sales and business development, Alberta and Prairies, at Intact, told Global News the crews will be provided by Wildfire Defense Systems and come from across the border, but stressed they were not concerned about the location as they “mobilize very, very quickly.”

Crews will also determine if a threat has subsided, and will put back items that were previously removed.

Click to play video: 'Wildfire risk high in Manitoba'

Wildfire risk high in Manitoba

“It really is an opportunity for us to help with this climate change adaptation problem that we’re all struggling with today,” Nelson told Global News.

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The pilot program is set to last throughout the 2024 wildfire season.

Anabela Bonada, climate science director at the University of Waterloo’s Centre on Climate Adaptation, said several of the tasks are “FireSmart measures,” often done by firefighters. This program could take some of that weight off their shoulders.

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“If a company’s going in and doing that themselves, that’s freeing up those firefighters to go and protect other infrastructure,” she said.

Intact Prestige and Intact Insurance home policy owners in B.C. and Alberta will have the Wildfire Defence Systems added automatically without any additional cost this season; however, it will also apply to those with Belairdirect policies. Nelson added that customers would not see any increase to premiums either.

That assistance may be needed as Canada has already seen dozens of wildfires burning in just the past month.

The B.C. Wildfire Service says there are currently 108 active wildfires, though just two per cent are considered out of control, while the province of Alberta says there are 38 active fires.

Early in April, the federal government and Environment Canada warned they were “preparing for the worst” with early projections indicating above-normal fire activity even in the spring months as a result of drought forecasts. 

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Click to play video: 'B.C. preparing for a challenging wildfire season'

B.C. preparing for a challenging wildfire season

That warning came after Canada saw its worst season on record last year, with 18.5 million hectares of land burned.

Intact touts the program as the first of its kind in the country, though there are other companies like Wawanesa Insurance that provide grants for communities to become more climate-resilient.

Bonada said she’d like to see more programs like Intact’s become more widespread.

“For us to really deal with any of these climate perils, but definitely wildfire, it’s a whole of society approach,” she said. “So everybody has to do their part.”

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