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Stephanie Davis bought a house in Kelowna, B.C., to get away from the noise and bustle of the big city. But when a nearby wildfire made it temporarily impossible to insure her new home, she was stuck.

“I called practically every local insurance company but since the fire was close, and it was a wildfire, they would not insure me,” Davis said. “I had to stay with a friend in Chilliwack for two months because trying to find a house or a rental with two dogs and two cats is not easy.”

When an extreme weather event like a wildfire occurs, insurance companies will temporarily stop the sale of new insurance policies and prevent policyholders from making major changes to existing coverage. The practice is called “restrict binding.”

Insurers email brokers to alert them to the restrictions and update their websites to stop customers from changing policies online. Customers must wait until the restrictions are lifted to change their policies or buy new ones.

Insurance companies often apply restrictions to areas as far as 50 kilometres away from a wildfire, said Aaron Sutherland, spokesperson for the Insurance Bureau of Canada. He said restrict binding stops customers from purchasing home insurance when they know fires are burning nearby.

“Insurance is financial protection for unforeseen risks,” Sutherland said. “Something like a wildfire coming down the hill behind you, that's not an unforeseen risk. It’s very real and very knowable.”

Davis was raised in East Vancouver and lived there until she retired. “It was like police cars and ambulances and fire trucks all day, all night,” she said. “It was just getting to be too much. I was born there and lived my entire life there… I just had to get out.”

Last July, Davis sold her townhouse. She went to the bank for a mortgage on a house in Kelowna, about 400 kilometres east of Vancouver. But as the McDougall Creek wildfire burned just outside the city, insurers wouldn’t sell Davis a policy for her new home. It halted Davis in her tracks — without insurance, Davis couldn’t complete the sale.

When the wildfire is under control, Sutherland said, companies lift the restrictions. He added insurance companies have similar restrictions for floods and other extreme weather events.

When a nearby wildfire made it temporarily impossible to insure her new home in Kelowna, Stephanie Davis was stuck.

In late September, more than a month after it began, firefighters got the 139-square-kilometre McDougall Creek fire under control. It destroyed nearly 190 homes and properties. According to the Insurance Bureau of Canada, wildfires in the Okanagan and Shuswap areas cost about $720 million in insured damage.

The fire crept within two kilometres of Davis’s new home in Kelowna — but the blaze never reached it.

The same month, Davis bought insurance online from Toronto-Dominion Bank, the bank that mortgaged her house. By the end of September, Davis moved into her two-storey home.

Now, Davis said she has a backyard overlooking the cliffs of Kelowna’s Mount Dilworth. She lives a 10-minute drive from downtown. The upstairs level feels open and bright and the property feels “huge,” she said. Her daughter moved into a small suite in the home.

“I have a good view of the valley and the city for a lot less than I would have paid for a townhouse in Vancouver,” Davis said.

Despite her newfound peace and quiet, Davis said the risk of wildfires nearby is still disturbing.

“I’m really quite unsettled knowing that I know I'm the owner of a home and already it could potentially burn down,” she said. “It’s not a good feeling.”

Wildfire risk is increasing with climate change. Recent research in the scientific journal Nature found the wildfires that burned across B.C. last year were fuelled by a climate-driven lack of moisture and record temperatures. Wildfires, drought and prolonged heat will occur more frequently and more intensely with climate change.

Last summer, several American insurance companies pulled out of California, partially citing the risk of wildfire. There, insurance companies must file their insurance rates with the state. Rates are subject to government approval, which makes it difficult for insurance companies to charge higher premiums.

According to Sutherland, insurance companies in California can’t charge premiums high enough to cover payouts. “You're seeing payouts grow but you're unable to account for that in your premiums. That's quite quickly unsustainable… It's quite a bit different in Canada.”

Canada’s insurance regulations promote a more “competitive market” and it’s not likely that Canadian insurance companies will stop insuring areas that see a high risk of wildfire, Sutherland said.

“Certainly, as we're seeing hotter, drier summers, where fires spread quite quickly and can threaten multiple communities on time,” he said. “But in terms of an insurability challenge there, I don't see one on the horizon.”

Since moving to Kelowna, Davis said her premiums have more than doubled. While Davis paid annual premiums of $1,600 for her townhouse in Vancouver, her monthly premiums are now $280 — an annual cost of $3,360.

In the coming years, Davis said she plans to find a local insurance company. Still, she said she expects rates to be high in Kelowna because of its wildfire risk.

“There’s a possibility of wildfire even in the winter. It is bone dry,” she said. “That will be the biggest hurdle, finding someone to cover the home.”

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I'm kind of sympathetic, but not very sympathetic. I really dislike large corporations, and I'm certainly no fan of insurance companies, whose business is basically to make a bet with you that they won't have to pay you as much as you pay them, and who can make sure their bet pays off because they have all the data and you don't.

But come on. If I were running an insurance company, there's no way I'd sell someone fire insurance when wildfires are in their neighborhood. Any insurance company stupid enough to do that wouldn't be in business long. And meanwhile, if someone's going to move into a place where there are lots of fires, they don't have a lot of complaint coming if fire insurance is expensive. You want cheap insurance, go somewhere low risk.