On May 3, thousands of Fort McMurray residents were issued mandatory evacuation orders as rapidly moving wildfires deemed the city uninhabitable. Over 70,000 people fled south – and found themselves in gridlock, inching their way along the only highway out of the city. Many vehicles ran out of gas or encountered engine trouble along the way, prompting drivers to ditch their cars and run; as a result, Highway 63 remains littered with abandoned cars and trucks. “There were lots of vehicles that were left on the side of the road, in medians between the different lanes of the highway,'' said Graeme McElheran, director of communications for Alberta Transportation, to The Canadian Press.
“`We are working on a strategy right now to reunite people with those vehicles.''
Now that the immediate financial needs of policyholders have been addressed, carriers are also joining forces with law enforcement to connect policyholders with their missing vehicles.
“We were notified late last week that the RCMP have started towing the vehicles that were abandoned in a way of first responders on Highway 63. We are working with the RCMP and our policy holders to link up any vehicles that were abandoned,” says Trevor Brick, Western Regional Claims Manager at Economical Insurance. He adds that many households that owned multiple vehicles were forced to leave at least one in the driveway, as family members often fled the city together.
While demand for initial claims has slowed in the three weeks since the wildfires broke out, Greg Somerville, President and CEO of Aviva Canada, stated to Insurance Business Canada that it is conceivable that insurers will see some more claims once the evacuation order is lifted and abandoned vehicles are recovered.
“The biggest challenge now is waiting for the town to be opened up so we can deploy adjusting and recovery teams into the area,” says the statement. “The other challenges will be assessing property damages as there will be a variety of properties that have varying levels of damages. This is also true for auto claims; as an example, determining whether or not a car is simply ‘smoke damaged’ that can be cleaned and repaired, or if it is damaged beyond repair.”
Aviva has received roughly 3,000 claims so far from the Fort McMurray area, “just shy of 2,000 being homeowner losses”.
Carriers have mobilized in response to the fire with many running multiple on-site claims centres to ease the process for both policy-holders and brokers. Both Economical and Aviva have each opened three in surrounding cities such as Lac La Biche, Edmonton and Calgary. Brick says the approach has been instrumental in connecting displaced residents with their brokers and coverage information.
“We did find situations where you had policy holders come in and they didn’t know who their insurance was with, so our staff would contact their broker and find out who the insurer was on risk and direct them to the appropriate insurer,” he says. “I would say as an industry, we’re working together to ensure they get what they need.”