Insured wildfire damage in Hay River and Yellowknife, NWT, during the summer — which led to Canada’s largest evacuation ever — cost the P&C insurance industry a total of more than $60 million, Catastrophe Indices and Quantification (CatIQ) Inc. reported Monday.
The wildfire in Behchokǫ̀-Yellowknife basically emptied the city of Yellowknife, forcing approximately 20,000 residents from their homes for about three weeks. Canada’s property and casualty insurance industry is still working to help customers repair and rebuild following these wildfire losses, Insurance Bureau of Canada reported Monday.
“Our thoughts are with everyone whose lives were disrupted and whose property was damaged or destroyed,” commented Rob de Pruis, national director of consumer and industry relations at the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC). “Those wildfires could have been much worse, and we owe a debt of gratitude to the firefighters and first responders who helped to protect lives and property.”
The Behchokǫ̀-Yellowknife wildfire started northwest of Yellowknife in late June. By mid-August, officials warned the fire could reach Yellowknife city limits. The fire increased due to dry, hot, and windy conditions. Northwest Territories fire officials announced the wildfire was “being held” on Aug. 28, meaning it was no longer expected to spread beyond current boundaries.
The wildfire near Yellowknife accounted for more than $30 million in insured damage, according to CatIQ.
Meanwhile, in Hay River and surrounding areas, wildfires forced 4,000 residents from the community of Enterprise and K’atl’odeeche First Nation Reserve to evacuate Aug. 13. More than 75% of the structures in Enterprise were destroyed; damage was also reported in Paradise Gardens and Patterson Road (20 km south of Hay River). During the evacuation, the RCMP reported a dozen vehicles immobilized or destroyed by the fire along the highway outside of Enterprise.
Hay River losses also accounted for more than $30 million worth of insured damage.
“This wildfire season set new records in terms of the amount of land burned and damage caused to personal and commercial property,” Craig Stewart, IBC’s vice president of climate change and federal issues, commented in a release. “No part of the country was spared, including communities in the Northwest Territories.
“As the frequency and severity of weather events such as wildfires continue to increase, we need to take immediate action to fund and rapidly implement Canada’s first National Adaptation Strategy [NAS].”
IBC has urged the federal government to invest at least $5.3 billion annually in the NAS over the next six years. The P&C insurers’ trade association says it’s been working with federal and provincial governments to set achievable targets in the NAS.
“For example, Canada can better prepare for increasingly severe wildfires by immediately mapping communities at high risk of wildfire and funding the development of wildfire community action plans in these areas,” Stewart said in a release. “Stable and predictable funding will, among other things, empower Canadian communities to better assess their vulnerability to growing climate threats and invest in more resilient infrastructure.”
Photo credit: Heavy smoke from nearby wildfires fills the sky in Yellowknife on Tuesday, August 15, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Angela Gzowski