Wildfires recently ravaged parts of the Western Cape, destroying vegetation, wine farms, historical buildings and residential property, costing the province millions of rands, according to Economic Development and Tourism MEC Alan Winde. 

The most recent fire, on the lower slopes of Table Mountain, resulted in many residents evacuating their homes overnight. The South African Insurance Association says the insurance industry is well equipped to cover insured clients for the cost of such losses, but when is fire damage actually covered and when could a claim for fire-related damage be rejected?

“Insurance cover for fire damage will depend on which type of cover you have, be it car insurance, buildings insurance, household insurance or business insurance,” Derek Wilson, the head of online insurance at financial comparison website hippo.co.za, says. “You cannot, for example, claim for fire damage to your furniture if you have only buildings insurance.”

You are generally covered for fire damage to:

  • Vehicles, if you have comprehensive car insurance, or third party, fire and theft cover.
  • Buildings, if you have buildings insurance. The premium is normally included in your levy in a sectional-title scheme, or you could have your own cover, which may be through your home-loan provider.
  • Household items such as furniture, electrical appliances, linen and clothing, if you have household insurance.
  • Water craft such as yachts, motorboats, dinghies, rubber ducks and jet skis, if you have a water-craft policy taken out alongside your car, buildings or household policy.
  • Business property, if you have business insurance for any assets, such as vehicles, buildings and office equipment, used for business purposes. Insurers can also cover you for business interruption as a result of fire damage.

There are instances where your insurer may not cover fire-related damage. These include:

  • Arson — deliberately setting property on fire is a criminal offence and is not covered under your insurance policy. Investigators are appointed by insurers to determine whether a fire has been caused by arson.
  • Fire in a vacant home — insurers normally define a vacant home as one that has not been occupied for more than 30 consecutive days. You can, however, obtain an Unoccupied Home Insurance endorsement to your existing policy from certain insurers.

“As policy benefits and exclusions vary depending on the exact type of cover and the specific insurance provider, you should always check your policy documents to ensure you are adequately covered. If you feel that an insurer is not providing you with the right service or cover suited to your needs, shop around for a better deal,” Wilson says.