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Wildfire season: How to shield your house & property

Canada continues to experience record-setting wildfire seasons year after year, and 2024 is anticipated to be no different. Fire crews are on alert nationwide for the upcoming season – particularly due to the higher risk given the impacts of a dry winter and early spring melt.


"The whole concept of business as usual is out the window," said John Robinson, a professor at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy and the School of the Environment at the University of Toronto. "Unfortunately, response to disaster isn't a time where you get a lot of creative policy. We need proactive or pre-emptive response."

When faced with such unstoppable destruction, how can Canadians prepare in advance to keep themselves and their property safe?

Business owners: There are similarities in how a home and business can prepare for wildfire, but there are also commercial-specific factors you should consider. Learn more.

1. Know if you live in a high-risk area

Canada is home to about nine percent of the world’s forests. And while fire plays an essential role in forest renewal, more of those fires are burning closer to people’s homes and communities. Since 1990, wildfires across Canada have consumed an average of 2.5 million hectares a year, according to the National Research Council of Canada (NRC). And fire suppression costs add up, ranging from $500 million to $1 billion a year.

It's more important than ever to focus on fire prevention to personal property, especially in high-risk areas. And the best protection against loss, damage or injury is prevention and mitigation, according to the Institute of Catastrophic Loss Reduction (ICLR).

So how do you know if you live in a high-risk area?

If your home or community is surrounded by brush, grassland, or forest, then you’re at higher risk for wildfires, which typically occur from May to September. The NRC’s Canadian Wildland Fire Information System monitors fire danger across Canada 24/7, and includes an interactive fire map with up-to-date reports.

Be prepared: Create an emergency kit to make sure everyone in your household can be self-sufficient for at least 72 hours. Get started.

2. Carefully consider your building materials

One of the biggest issues for homeowners is sparks and embers. Burning debris can be thrown up to two kilometres ahead of a wildfire, according to FireSmart™ Canada*, which can ignite materials on your home. Adding fuel to the fire, radiant heat from a wildfire can melt vinyl siding and even break windows, while direct flames will ignite any flammable objects in their path.

If you’re building new (or reconstructing a home due to fire loss), be sure to ask your contractor about specific construction materials and practices that can mitigate damage and loss from wildfires. Fire-resistant construction materials include fibre-cement siding in place of vinyl or wood shake siding, asphalt shingles in place of wood shake roofs, and concrete patios in place of wood decks.

For added protection, create a non-combustible zone up to 1.5 metres around your home, clearing that area of any materials that could easily ignite. FireSmart recommends reducing shrubs and evergreen trees within 10 metres of buildings, thinning and pruning trees within 10 to 30 metres of your home and ensuring powerlines are clear of tree limbs (your local utility provider can help with this). Spacing trees three metres apart will help reduce the risk of fire spreading from tree to tree. Also be sure to keep fire pits away from structures. If possible, cover the fire pit with a fine mesh wire.

3. Follow a checklist to make your home more fire-resistant

While there are many ways to limit the damage of wildfires, the average homeowner can tackle some of these measures on their own. 

  • Windows: Replace single-pane windows with tempered, thermal (dual-paned or multi-paned) windows, since the heat from an advancing wildfire can break single-pane windows. Metal screening can also protect against ember entry.

  • Doors: All doors on your home and outbuildings — including entry doors and garage doors — should be fire-rated and have a proper seal.

  • Gutters and eaves: It’s a dreaded task, but very important to regularly clear gutters of buildup from leaves, branches, and other debris. These can easily be ignited by sparks or embers. If possible, use non-combustible gutters and downspouts (such as aluminum) and screen your gutters with metal mesh to avoid the accumulation of debris in the first place.

  • Vents: Vents create an opening for sparks and embers into your home. To safeguard against this, install fire-rated vents to prevent their entry. Then enclose or screen over those vents and any other service openings to reduce the risk of drifting embers accumulating inside your home.

  • Siding: Untreated wood and vinyl siding offers little protection against fire. Instead, opt for stucco, brick, concrete, metal or fibre-cement siding, which all offer superior fire resistance. (Logs and heavy timbers can also be effective.) Ensure the start of your siding is a minimum of 15 centimetres above the ground to provide adequate ground-to-siding clearance.

  • Roofing: Install a fire-rated roof such as metal, asphalt, clay, or composite rubber tiles. Untreated wood is combustible, but also leaves crevices where embers can enter your home and start a fire. Be sure to finish soffits, eave projections and roof projections with non-combustible material. And as part of ongoing maintenance, regularly clean your roof of combustible materials, such as fallen debris from surrounding trees.

  • Chimney: While it’s nice to curl up in front of a cozy fireplace or wood stove, don’t forget where the sparks and embers can end up. To reduce the chance of your chimney sending ‘firestarter’ outside onto buildings and brush, add a spark arrestor to your chimney.

  • Decks and balconies: If you’re building a new deck or renovating one, choose non-combustible deck boards. Then be sure to wrap the base of your deck with fire-resistant material. Do not store propane or gas tanks, or firewood piles, under your deck.

  • Fences, walkways & boardwalks: A wooden fence or boardwalk can lead a fire directly to your front door. It’s a direct route for Mother Nature to steer toward your home. To prevent this from happening, add a metal gate to create a separation between your house and wooden fencing.

  • Lawn: As for your landscaping, keep that tidy and the lawn mowed. This is particularly important for grass along your fence lines, which can dry out and add opportunities for wildfire to encroach on your property. Plant low-density, fire-resistant plants, and don’t use bark or pine needle mulches within 10 metres of your home.

  • Sheds and outbuildings: For any buildings that are within 10 metres of your home, make sure you follow the same checklist and precautions. This includes sheds, garages, workshops, outhouses, and cottage bunkies.

4. Protect precious items and memories

    Finally, remember that not everything can be replaced, and the effects of a wildfire can be heart-wrenching when we lose important valuables.

    • Create digital copies of your important documents (such as passports, photographs, legal documents, and birth certificates). Ideally, save them in the cloud.
    • Consider purchasing a fire-resistant bag or safe to keep your original copies of these documents.
    • Take a home inventory to make things more efficient if you need to open an insurance claim.

    Most home insurance policies (as well as auto, condo, tenant, farm and commercial) cover damage caused by wildfire. Talk to your broker about what types of fire damage are covered under your policy, since some types of damage can be excluded or have specified limits. While it’s important to mitigate risk, it’s also important to make sure you’ve got the right coverage if the worst-case scenario occurs.

    Find more resources at Wildfire Wisdom: Preventing Loss and Damage

    *FireSmart,Intelli-feu and other associated Marks are trademarks of the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre (CIFFC ).


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