One of the most common concerns cited by local residents over the upcoming G8 Summit is fear of a catastrophic forest fire should protests get out of hand.
The fear, sparked largely by the tinder-dry conditions last summer that led to the complete closure of Kananaskis Country over the September long weekend, is understandable but somewhat seasonally misplaced, according to a provincial fire management expert.
June is traditionally one of the coolest and wettest months of the summer, and the risk of a forest fire is usually low, said Len Wilton, Wildfire and Air Operations Manager for Alberta Sustainable Resource Development.
“If we could have picked a month of the year to hold this we would have picked June. It’s usually pretty wet and everything has just turned green,” Wilton told a G8 briefing of MD of Bighorn residents last Thursday (Feb. 28).
“We’ve run graphs and charts for the last 25 years showing what the weather is like at that time of year, and 75 per cent of the time the hazard is low. Only one to two per cent of the time the hazard has reached extreme.”
Wilton has been working with G8 Summit organizers to put in place an emergency plan should the worst occur during the June 26 and 27 meeting of the leaders of the world’s eight most powerful nations.
The plan will be much like that implemented last August and September when the forest was closed down, Wilton said.
“We will have lots of manpower and helicopters on standby, and we will monitor the situation day by day. We plan for the worst and hope for the best.”
“If the rest of the province is dry we won’t rob from those areas, we will bring in manpower from other provinces. If the rest of the province is wet and we have a problem, we will bring in the manpower from within Alberta.”
“Let’s hope we have a wet spring. We need some good rains in May and June.”
Homeowners worried about whether their insurance policies will cover losses from a forest fire connected to the G8 need to check with their individual insurers, officials say.
Within the insurance industry, in the wake of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, all sorts of “terrorist exclusions” have been implemented, but fires as a result of terrorist activities are covered, said Lucille Cuell, owner of Cascade Insurance in the Bow Valley.
“It’s the one thing they’re not able to exclude is damage resulting from ‘fire following’ — if rioters or terrorists cause a fire.”
Brent Dunbar, former owner of Canmore’s Alpine Insurance, said Canadian legislation stipulates that “fire following” — a fire resulting from a terrorist attack — must be covered by insurance companies.
Prior to Sept. 11, most companies had exclusions on damage resulting from riots and acts of war, but terrorism wasn’t specifically excluded, he said.
“It sure is now, though. The status within the insurance industry is that all policies are going to have a terrorism exclusion on them, but under Canadian legislation, ‘fire following’ is covered.” In the event of a fire in Kananaskis Country that destroyed houses there or further up the valley in Canmore and Banff, the cause of the fire would dictate whether insurance would cover the losses, he said.
“There’s a difference between terrorism and vandalism. It depends on who did it. It could be ugly as far as the investigation into determining what really caused it, but my interpretation is that it would be covered because it would be considered ‘fire following’.”
Frances McRae, Director of Communications for the G8 office in Ottawa said the federal government is working with the insurance industry and the Insurance Bureau of Canada “so we can identify any gaps in insurance coverage.”
“The insurance question is certainly a lot broader than Kananaskis. It’s not exclusively an issue related to the G8. We’re trying to determine where the industry is on this, even prior to Sept. 11 and the Quebec summit.”
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