Wildfires (often referred to as forest fires) can cause extensive damage to our homes, harm our environment, and put our lives at risk. Take a little time to familiarize yourself with some steps you can take before, during, and after a wildfire to keep your home and family safe and sound.
How to prepare before a wildfire
Wildfires generally occur between May and September, and they’re most prevalent in British Columbia and the Boreal forest zones of Ontario, Quebec, the Prairie provinces, the Yukon, and the Northwest Territories. Consider these tips to prepare for a wildfire before one arrives:
- Keep an eye on the local news. Pay attention to local media during wildfire season and listen for warnings about wildfires that could affect you.
- Learn how to prevent wildfires. While most wildfires occur naturally, many are caused by people — especially during the hot, dry summer months. Learn seven simple things you can do to help prevent a wildfire.
- Map out your escape routes. Create a map of your home and mark an emergency exit from each room (if a window is the best option, make sure everyone knows how to open it from the inside). If you live in an apartment or condo, learn the best ways to get out (including at least one emergency exit that doesn’t require the elevator).
- Keep flammable items away from your home’s perimeter. This means removing flammable curtains and other materials, as well as removing garden debris like dry branches and leaves (don’t forget to clean your gutters regularly, too).
- Practice fire safety techniques. Make sure the whole family knows how to “stop, drop, and roll” in case anyone’s clothing catches fire.
- Make sure your home and belongings are properly insured. If it’s been a while since you’ve updated your home inventory or reviewed your home insurance policy, contact your licensed broker to make sure you have the protection you need. You should also consider asking your broker what kind of coverage for additional living expenses (like food and shelter) is included in your policy in case you need to evacuate.
- Prepare your emergency kit. It should be portable and include at least three days’ worth of supplies for each member of your household (including pets).
Keep these items in your family’s emergency kit:
Your summer emergency kit
- A portable charger for your cell phone
- A battery-powered radio
- A list of emergency contacts
- A first aid kit
- Bottled water
- Candles, matches, and a lighter
- A flashlight and extra batteries
- Non-perishable food (and pet food for Fido)
What to do during a wildfire
Keep these tips in mind when you’re aware that wildfires have begun and are approaching your town or neighbourhood:
- Monitor the local news and obey the authorities. Evacuation notices and other directions from your local authorities should be announced on your local news station. Always obey directions given by your local or provincial government.
- Be prepared to evacuate at a moment’s notice. If an evacuation notice is issued, you might not have much time to get ready to leave your home. It’s a good idea to pack a bag of items you couldn’t live without (don’t forget medications and important documents), and leave your vehicle parked in a position that will make it easy to drive away quickly.
- Keep your windows and doors closed to limit your exposure to smoke and dust. If you have time, consider covering vents, windows, and other openings with duct tape and plywood.
- Wet your roof and property. Unless local authorities have asked you to limit your water use, consider using a sprinkler to soak your roof and property.
- Save receipts for additional living expenses. If a government authority orders you to evacuate, your home insurance policy could cover out-of-pocket expenses like food and a place to stay. Keep receipts for any costs you wouldn’t normally face while living in your own home.
What to do when it’s time to return home after a wildfire
When local authorities say it’s safe to return to your home, follow these steps to make the transition as smooth as possible:
- Pack some supplies. Before you head home, try to gather these basic supplies:
- Closed-toe shoes
- A cell phone (with a camera) and a charger
- A flashlight
- Bottled water
- Garbage bags
- A first aid kit
- Walk around the perimeter of your home before you go inside. Look for out-of-place electrical wiring, gas smells, or loose debris. If you notice downed power lines or a gas smell, call your hydro or gas company before entering your house.
- Enter your house carefully and turn off the main power breaker before you make your way through the rest of the house. If you have to use a generator, a charcoal grill, or another fuel-burning device, make sure you keep it outdoors, and in a well-ventilated area.
- Don’t drink the water. Stick to bottled water until your local officials have confirmed your tap water is safe to drink, and avoid flushing the toilet until you know that your sewer or septic system is in good working order.
- When in doubt, throw it out. Food and drinks inside your fridge or freezer should likely be tossed if your house lost power for an extended period of time or was exposed to heat, ash, smoke, or any of the chemicals used to put out fires. Canned items that are sealed and don’t appear damaged should be wiped clean in case they’ve been exposed to any harmful chemicals. Bonus tip: Take pictures of anything you’re throwing out. Your home insurance policy could help pay to replace the foods you have to throw away.
- Take photographs of any damage before you begin cleaning up. This can make it easier for your insurance company to process your claim.
- Contact your home insurance broker. If your home has sustained damage, your broker can coordinate with your insurance company to help you get repairs underway. Be prepared to provide some important details about the damage to your broker or the claims representative from your insurance company.
These are just a few of the steps you should take before, during, and after a wildfire to protect your family and your home. For more tips on what to do in the event of a wildfire, check out the websites for your provincial and municipal governments, as well as these tips from the government of Canada and the Canadian Red Cross.
To learn how your home insurance policy could protect you and your home in the event of a wildfire, talk to your broker today.
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