Wildfires

Paul Martin and Colin Rooke share what homeowners can do to mitigate risks from wildfires.

Listen to the full podcast here, or read the transcript below.

Paul Martin:

Welcome to Risky Business Commercial Insurance with Butler Byers. This is Paul Martin, the business commentator on CKOM, and joining me today, Colin Rooke, Commercial Risk Reduction Specialist with Butler Byers. Colin, we try to keep the show as timely and current as possible, and we will react and respond to things that are in the headlines on a daily basis and that story that is capturing, oh, so much attention these days, the wildfire season. It’s early this year, it’s, we haven’t seen as much in Saskatchewan to date, but clearly Western Canada is feeling it from British Columbia through to Manitoba and communities being evacuated. This is bringing back memories of Fort McMurray of a few years back, and just that the whole topic of fires and that brings insurance right to the forefront of the play, doesn’t it? I mean, devastating and catastrophic fires and insurance tend to go in the same sentence. So when you see this, what are your customers saying? What are you seeing? How are you reacting to this as an industry professional? What take is yours on the story of wildfires?

Colin Rooke:

Yeah, it’s an important conversation, first of all, with this risk to Fort Nelson, and it’s a risk that’s growing. I have an article that’s two hours old, and of course every hour the fire is getting closer, but we are within about a kilometer away from Fort Nelson being the first catastrophic loss, wildfire loss in Canada.  And that’s a big deal. You’re now into the hundreds of millions, if not billions in damages. And so it’s got the whole insurance industry talking. As you can imagine, we’re subject to a lot of newsletters from insurers, and they’re all talking about limited binding authority or just a warning in these areas. And so they’re already either taking a stance or preparing to take a stance. And so it’s something to be aware of. And it’s not just about if you’re saying I’m in Saskatchewan, like you said, not really a risk today, but it does impact you depending on the primary insurer for the area. And if that primary insurer is your insurer, they’re out the money. And we’ve talked about risk management and being an excellent customer of the insurer, well, if these losses are in the hundreds of millions or billions, the insurer or insurers are going to look to recoup that. I mean, there’ll certainly be some reinsurance, but they’re going to look to recoup that. And so one, it’s just important to be aware of what’s going on and how this could affect you. And then really it just trickles down to being that great customer. If you’re anywhere near an area that could be subject to wildfires. And I’ll give you a quick stat. So the CEO of the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction said there’s about 60,000 plus communities across Canada that are located in places that are posing a significant wildfire risk today. At first, I thought it was 60,000 people. I thought that wasn’t bad, but communities, they’re saying 60,000 communities today are in areas that are a risk of wildfire. And so it’s not just a BC problem, it’s not just a Ford Nelson problem. And of course, we’ve got the fire near Fort Mac. It’s an every person problem. And certainly in this province, when you look, if you do any business up north or if you have people with that work for you, a seasonal cabin, sorry, I was going to say seasonal dwellings, that’s what we call ’em in insurance, but cabins or vacation homes. And so it’s a very important conversation to have, and it’s something that needs to be on your mind.

Paul Martin:

It strikes me, Colin, that as just a homeowner or if I have the family cottage or something, when you think you talk something, the magnitude of a wildfire or catastrophic fire, I feel pretty insignificant in this. And fear becomes the big factor. And they’re probably calling you to say, provide me with some comfort here. Help me with this. That’s why they go to people like you to buy some security. What advice do you give? How do I as a homeowner become proactive in this? What can I do to protect myself to fight these things? Is there anything I can do? I mean, you alluded to be a good customer, and maybe we should just talk about what that looks like, how you actually go about doing that.

Colin Rooke:

Yeah, you made a comment. I’m going to do a quick aside about people reaching out. And so just as a sort of industry tip or some advice, when there’s a wildfire near a place that typically has cabins, vacation homes, we’ll get a lot of phone calls, people that say, this cabin’s been in the family forever, not worth a ton, so we haven’t bothered to insure it. Now there’s a fire nearby. We’d like to, and just as public service announcement for all brokers, best case scenario, they will not allow you to buy any home property insurance within 50 kilometres of a wildfire. However, insurance companies are very good at getting on this, and they’ll remove binding authority for everybody as soon as they think there’s a rift. So that means no insurer or no broker, not just Butler Byers, they will say, absolutely nobody can place any new business for homes or vacation homes in this area effectively, immediately. And so we’ve talked about binding authority on the show, but it’s our ability to actually place insurance on behalf of the insurers and they remove that quick. And so again, just a quick note that if you’re worried about this, do something in advance. Now, on the proactive risk management side, and it’s a great topic for the show, we’ve put a lot of effort into, okay, well, we can’t stop fires, but there’s a lot we can do to mitigate whether it’s a business or your home itself. And we did a show years ago around wildfires, and you see these images where the whole neighbourhood’s burned down and one home remains with green grass, and not even the fencing was touched. Well, there’s actually a lot you can do to completely, I shouldn’t say completely, but really mitigate the risk of your home going up in flames. And you might think it’s common knowledge, but it really isn’t. And so we’ve got some simple guides that checklists that will let you know how prepared you are. But we also have for both business and home or cabin in depth guides, that really walks you through everything you can do. In the previous show, we talked about zone one, zone two, zone three; zone three is your first line of defence, and it says, this is what you need to do X amount of metres out. And if you do that, it reduces your risk of fire by such. And then zone two further reduces it zone one. So for those that are worried, it’s an excellent tool to consider using and work on this preparedness.

Paul Martin:

That’s a topic that I want to dig into a little bit more. And of course, you piqued our interest with, yeah, what is it about the one house that survives on the street when the fire goes through an entire neighborhood? And I want to explore that a little bit because I’m sure that it caught my ear. No doubt it caught our listeners ears. So we’re going to take a little break and when we come back, maybe we can dig into that and also we can walk through some tips for business owners about first to protect your business, but also if you’re in the face of it, what are some good business practices that you need to deploy in terms of how do you deal with employees and how do you just deal with customers and how do you position yourself in the event that your community may be facing this? We’re going to take a little break. You’re listening to Risky Business Commercial Insurance with Butler Byers, Paul Martin here. We’ll be back after this.

Welcome back to Risky Business Commercial Insurance with Butler Byers. I’m Paul Martin, and joining me, Colin Rooke, Commercial Risk Reduction Specialist with Butler Byers. Colin, just before the break, you made the comment, and I think we’ve all seen this footage, and everyone from the firefighters to the news reporters to those of us who watch this are fascinated by the fact that a fire can rip through an entire neighbourhood or a community, and one or two houses are still standing. And how is it, and you said there are things you can do. Can we talk about that a little bit? What are some of the proactive measures a homeowner can undertake in order to put themselves at least increase the chances of their property surviving?

Colin Rooke:

Yeah, I mean, I think it starts as really serving your property. And so we have this, we’ve got a checklist. It’s really a wildfire or fire preparedness checklist. And this would be, you’d say that these are the basics, right? So it talks about pruning any tree branches within two meters of the ground. Makes sense, removing dead plants and trees. Have you done that? Keeping grass short, which it’s funny, people don’t think about this, but watered healthy green shortcut grass is a huge fire deterrent, and it makes sense, right? If you’re not watering and it’s dried out, fire’s going to rip right through that. A barrier around your home, a separation, and people are thinking, oh, my landscaping is going to suffer. No, that’s not what I’m saying. Don’t plant grass right up touching to the house. In fact, it looks nice if you put a little dirt or rock in there, surround your home with dirt and rock, and that is a fire deterrent. And so this just walks you through what you may or may not have done and the basics. And then we talked about these three zones, and this really gets more in depth, and it’s not any items that aren’t doable, but it really just says, okay, have you thought about the type of shingles you use, the type of material you have, the window coverings, the type of windows, the height and length of trees, what type of tree? And for someone that’s for example, building a new cabin or you’re building a new home near an area that there could be wildfire, or even if you’re next to large fields, these are items that you could take into consideration to say, maybe I can do things slightly different and then really mitigate the chances of fire. In our previous show, we talked about embers, and again, this is years ago, and I’m going off memory, but there’s multiple types of embers, and that’s what you actually have to worry about most is these embers traveling tens of kilometres in the air and landing. And so my point is, if you see a wall of fire heading towards your house, that’s 21,000 hectares. I’m not going to tell you that I can assure your home’s going to be okay. But where all these spinoff fire start is again, it’s usually embers carried in the wind, and that’s where you can really make some big steps to save your property versus the neighbour’s. So if you’ve set yourself up, maybe the ember goes right out, or maybe again, the neighbour’s home’s a blazed, but yours is untouched because of the steps you’ve taken. But the real point is whether you’re a business and it’s a totally different guide for commercial developments or a home, we can help alleviate a lot of that stress by reaching out and just saying, look, I want to protect my home. What can you give me? And the nice thing is we’ve made that easy as well. And something that we also haven’t talked about is, okay, there’s physically protecting your home, but what about the commercial side of this? We typically talk commercial applications on this show. Well, we also have an HR guide is what I’ll call it, but it’s more about policies and procedures. What can you do as a company to alleviate stress and boost engagement during a wildfire season? So if you have employees, we can give you a newsletter to send out to say, look, if you’re worried about your home, come talk to us or take these steps, which is really going to help with productivity sick days. But it also talks you through should you consider a leave for employees that need to protect their investment, and what’s the benefit to the business if you do so? You’ve got a lot of research there. So it’s not just protecting the business or the home, but a lot of the background operation stuff we can help with as well.

Paul Martin:

It’s an interesting point because we alluded to earlier in the show that fear is one of the great things that comes with this. If you’re facing the prospect of losing your house to a catastrophic fire, the group of employees within your organization, if they’re all collectively feeling that fear, odds are your business is not going to be performing as well as you want it to. So how can you be a good employer? We’ll have these policies set up in advance, and you’re going to do a lot to build that bond and relationship between employer and employee. If you can demonstrate, hey, the boss has got this in hand, they’ve actually thought about it, then they have a policy in place.

Colin Rooke:

Exactly. And again, if you’re worried about it, reach out. And depending on your level of worriedness, I mean, we can even connect you with the National Institute of Catastrophic Losses if you want. It’s not just for brokers, it’s not just for commercial applications. I’ve attended many seminars. In fact, the guy that talks about fire preparedness is amazing, and we did a show as well on protecting against hail and what I’ve learned from that, and they did a quiz initially on roofing types and materials. What’s the safest? And I was completely wrong, frankly. And I think that was the point, but it’s that planning side, it’s thinking in advance, and then just hoping that you’ll be okay. And as an aside, I just realized the show we did, we were talking about the Maui fires, and in the town of Lahaina, there was this old, old home that was completely untouched, not even the car. And I referenced why, and it was very, very deliberate fire preparation, and that sparked the conversation around this person was very purposeful in protecting against wildfire, and the result was green grass, no property damage at all, not even the car. So if you’re on an island in a town that gets completely destroyed by wildfires and you can survive, then you can mitigate losses.

Paul Martin:

There’s something to this. Yeah.

Colin Rooke:

There is. Yeah. Yeah.

Paul Martin:

And maybe we just got a minute left here, so maybe we’ll just summarize. I think you invite people to reach out and you’ve got these guides, step-by-step guides. That’ll give you some guidance, some advice, some tips, some hints. All they have to do is reach out to Butler Byers. You’d be more than happy to provide ’em free of charge.

Colin Rooke:

Absolutely.

Paul Martin:

You’ve been listening to Colin Rooke, the Commercial Risk Reduction Specialist with Butler Byers talking all things about insurance and commercial insurance in particular, but a very timely topic that we addressed in this particular program with the threat of wildfires now moving through Western Canada. And it’s not often you see the federal government stage entire news conferences to talk about their preparedness for fires. So clearly this is an issue that’s turning heads everywhere across the nation, and there are things you can do to protect yourself should you own some property that could be in the path of one of these fires. Thanks for joining us. This is Risky Business. I’m Paul Martin. We’ll talk to you next time.