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Forest fires: how to prepare your home

Thousands of forest fires occur across Canada every year. Keep your home and your family safe by taking the right precautions and getting prepared. Use this guide to help you plan for and clean up after a forest fire.
1

Prepare your yard

One of the most effective ways to deter the flames of a forest fire from your property is simply to keep up with basic yard maintenance.

Reduce the combustibility of your landscape and decrease the chances that a fire will reach your home by cleaning up your yard of dry and dead vegetation. Rake any fallen leaves and clear any combustible materials, such as firewood, away from your home's foundation.

Mowing and watering your lawn on a regular basis will also help keep your grass and plants green, healthy, and resistant to ignition, creating a buffer zone between your home and an encroaching forest fire. Make sure your lawn mower is in good working condition so that you can easily keep your lawn in check.

2

Prepare the outside of your home

Your home's exterior is the next line of defence during a forest fire. As part of your spring cleaning, you should clear away any flammable materials such as leaves, twigs, and bird's nests from your gutters, roof area, and walkways. Check under your deck for combustible materials as well.

If you live in an area with a high forest fire risk, it is recommended that you create at least a 10-metre buffer between your home and any trees on your property. Make sure you trim back tree limbs as well. A good tree pruner will help you make quick work of the job.

3

Prepare the inside of your home

It is important to prepare the inside of your home as well. Start by making sure none of your electrical outlets are overloaded and performing an inspection of your appliances. Check for any frayed or loose cords and clogged filters.

Every home should also have a fire extinguisher, ideally one within easy reach on every floor. There are different types of fire extinguishers for different types of fires. See our fire safety guide for more information.

Over the long term, focus on making your home safer by using fire-resistant materials for home improvements and additions. For example, you can opt for non-combustible insulation that will slow down the spread of the flames.

4

Make a plan

Every home needs to have a fire safety plan and an emergency evacuation plan in place so that everyone knows what to do and where to go in an emergency.

Identify multiple possible evacuation routes from your home and hold regular fire drills both during the day and at night so that your household is ready to evacuate at any time. Instruct everyone to feel interior doors for heat and to check whether smoke is coming from under doors before opening them. Teach your family that, if the smoke is thick, to stay as close as possible to the ground.

You should also choose a designated meeting place in case your family is separated at the time of a forest fire evacuation. Make sure that everyone knows which routes to take from home, work, or school and decide who will take care of transporting children and pets.

5

Put together a disaster kit

A disaster kit is a collection of the basic supplies and essentials that your family may need in the event of severe weather or a natural disaster, such as a forest fire. It should be easy to carry and easy to access so that you can quickly grab it if you are forced to evacuate.

Here are some recommended supplies to include in your disaster kit:

6

Make a cleaning checklist

Damage caused by forest fires can be devastating, but you can save many of your belongings and prevent further damage by acting quickly and equipping yourself with the right supplies.

When it's time to tackle the clean-up, make sure you are prepared with the following cleaning and recovery supplies:

7

Clean your home

Once you are properly equipped and the evacuation has been lifted, you can return to your home to assess the damage and begin cleaning. Here are some important tips to keep in mind as you go.

Staying safe

When you first return home, inspect the exterior and the roof for signs of structural damage. Other dangers may include smouldering embers and hazardous debris left over from the fire. Once inside, confirm that all fires have been completely extinguished.

Before you begin cleaning, make sure to outfit yourself in the proper safety equipment, including boots, work gloves, and safety glasses. Protective equipment and clothing such as long pants and long-sleeve shirts will keep your skin and eyes safe from hazardous materials and strong cleaning agents.

Documenting the damage

As you start assessing your home, take photos of the damage and create a list of lost or damaged belongings for your insurance provider. It's a good idea to review your insurance policy so you know which items to list and what level of coverage to expect. As you carry out repairs, make sure you hang on to all of your receipts and submit them to your insurer as well.

Cleaning and restoration tips

You should be able to wash away most soot and stains left behind on surfaces after a fire using a mild detergent. If you need a stronger solution, you can also use a TSP cleaner diluted in water. Be careful not to let it make contact with your skin and be sure to thoroughly rinse and dry the clean surfaces afterwards.

To remove odours from clothing and other washable fabrics, try washing them in cold water with your regular detergent and one tablespoon of vanilla extract. All of your utensils, dishes, glasses, and pots and pans also need to be thoroughly washed and disinfected before use.

The smell of smoke can linger for a long time and some of your belongings may need multiple cleanings to rid them of the odour. You can help remove odours from the air by placing odour absorbers such as activated charcoal, vanilla, or vinegar throughout your home.

After a forest fire, your home may also have flooding damage from fire hoses. Any drywall and insulation that has been affected will have to be removed to prevent further damage and hazardous mould growth. Keep doors and windows open to help ventilate your home and encourage air circulation with box fans. Consult our flood preparedness and cleaning guide for more information on how to clean up flood damage.

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