Chaos ensues in Australia after the onset of wildfires which began on Tuesday 12 November 2019. Areas in New South Wales and Queensland have been badly affected and four people have lost their lives. Firefighters are battling over 120 fires. The Foreign Commonwealth Office (FCO) has raised the warning to ‘catastrophic,’ and has advised UK tourists to “follow the directions of local authorities” and “stay away from bushes and vegetations”. Despite wildfires being a common occurrence around this time of year, this is the first time that officials have seen the fires in such intensity. The dry conditions are becoming increasingly dangerous and it is expected that the worst is yet to come. Fire chiefs have suggested that climate change is a major contributing factor to the severity of the wildfires.

A similar case has arisen in California as strong winds increase blazes of high intensity in Sonoma. According to the CNBC, the wildfires have been recorded as ‘the largest and most intense in the state’s history’. The Kincade Fire in California has burned through 50,000 acres of land since last Wednesday. The fire has reportedly destroyed around 400 buildings, with devastating effects across multiple regions. The wildfires are said to be the result of a drought that has been on-going over the past year.

A wildfire can affect your holiday in a number of ways so it’s important to know what cover may be available to you. If there have been any disruptions to your flights you should first contact your airline who are responsible for booking you an alternative flight or providing you with a refund of any unused tickets. If you have booked your holiday as part of a package and your holiday is disrupted by the wildfires you will need to speak to the company directly.

Does travel insurance cover me in the event of a natural disaster?

A natural disaster can occur with very little warning and cause devastation. Most travel insurance policies will offer protection against natural disasters either as standard or as an extension to the policy. If you are unsure whether your policy offers cover for force majeure (also called a natural disaster or major incident) you should check your policy wording or speak to your travel insurance company. It is also worth noting that force majeure cover will only be available if the policy was purchased before the incident or threat of the incident occurred.

Can I cancel my upcoming trip because of a wildfire?

The effects of a wildfire can be distressing and may be enough to convince travellers to cancel their trip, but will you be covered? Provided the policy covers force majeure and you it before the incident became a known event, as mentioned above, you are entitled to cover. Cover levels will differ between insurance companies but generally, if your accommodation is no longer inhabitable, the area you are travelling to has been affected or you find that you cannot travel to your destination because of transport disruptions you may be entitled to claim back the cost of pre-paid expenses that are directly related to your trip.

Although wildfires can be very off putting you will not be covered to cancel your holiday if you no longer wish to travel. This is termed as ‘disinclination to travel’.

Can I come home if I am already abroad?

There’s nothing worse than being on holiday and then a natural disaster occurs. Once again, if you have force majeure cover you will be entitled to make a claim under your travel insurance policy. If your accommodation has been affected you will be covered to either travel home or move to a safer area to continue with your holiday. If flights and transportation are affected, this responsibility lays with your transport provider. Some travel insurance policies will also cover additional expenses such as prescription medication or baby essentials if you are delayed returning home.

Travel delays and missed connection – if you are delayed for more than 24hrs but your flight has not been cancelled, airlines should cover you for additional expenses, i.e. if you had to stay in accommodation whilst waiting for your flight or transport you may have needed to get to your accommodation.

Am I covered for emergency medical attention or repatriation?

All travel insurance policies will cover the cost of emergency medical treatment needed as a result of force majeure. Repatriation will also be arranged on your behalf but your travel insurance company if medical necessary.

Travel tip: It’s always a good idea to keep hold of any receipts so you can submit them alongside your claim