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Wildfire focus needed in Canadian cat models


October 11, 2007   by Canadian Underwriter


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Canadian catastrophe models should place more emphasis on wildfires and heavy rain, according to Paul Kovacs, executive director of the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction (ICLR).
Kovacs made his statement at the National Insurance Conference of Canada (NICC) in Montreal. His comment is echoed in a recent report written by Glen Daraskevitch, vice president of risk modelling firm AIR Worldwide Corporation.
Insurers underwriting properties exposed to wildfire hazard cannot rely on historical losses, given the growth in the number and value of exposed properties in high-risk wildland/urban interface a buffer zone in which human development intersects with dense woodland vegetation, Darasketvitch said.
Referring to the west coast of the United States, Darasketvitch noted the frequency of wildfires has remained relatively constant over the last several decades. At the same time, wildfire-driven losses have increased significantly, exceeding property losses of US$10 billion since 1980.
Kovacs cautioned NICC delegates about the threat of a catastrophic wildfire on the Canadian west coast. This is a covered peril, and though Canada has one of the best fire fighting forces in the world, one day were going to miss and were going to have a billion-dollar event on our hands, he said.
To mitigate losses, Darasketvitch suggested, cat models should incorporate the structural characteristics of specific properties of a building, such as the vulnerability of different roofing and siding materials. In addition to building materials, AIR damage functions account for setback distances cleared space separating a home from the surrounding vegetation, Darasketvitch wrote.
He further observed that a survey conducted following this summers Angora fire revealed most of the fire-ravaged homes did not have setbacks. Of the homes that did survive with minimal damage, complete or partial setbacks were present, he noted.