Forest fires: everything you need to know

Un hélicoptère éteint un feu de forêt

Exacerbated by climate change, the frequency of forest fires is increasing. In September 2023, the SOPFEU (This hyperlink will open in a new tab) counted 538 major wildfires in Quebec, compared with an annual average of 409 over the past 10 years. This is a huge difference! The risk is very real. Here’s what you can do to protect your home and family in the event of a forest fire.

Causes of forest fires

A number of factors are at play here, like lightning, railroads and industrial or forestry operations.

In most cases, humans are to blame for these disasters that destroy vast areas of our forests. From 2012 to 2021, 30% of forest fires were the result of recreational activities, and 34% were caused by agricultural and domestic activities. Some people even start fires out of profit or spite, a plight that authorities have to deal with year after year.

In addition to human-started wildfires, climatic conditions are also to blame. When lightning strikes, it doesn't always mean a fire will break out. But when drought, heat and wind are all present, it quickly puts forests and their residents at risk.

At-risk areas

Do you live in a high-risk region? Are forest fires a threat to your home or town? To find out, consult the SOPFEU website, which is regularly updated. Northern areas are more at risk of fire because of the composition of their territory. There are ways of assessing an area’s risk level. These include the:

  • humus index
  • light fuel index
  • initial propagation index

Up North, they are tell-tale signs of an increased risk of fire.

Impacts of a forest fire

A forest fire is a natural disaster with countless repercussions.

Impacts on health

A forest fire is a natural disaster with countless repercussions.First and foremost are the effects on human health. Air rife smoke and ash is hard to breathe. It’s especially difficult for people with respiratory problems. Follow the authorities' instructions and stay indoors during high smog alerts.

The effects on mental health mustn’t be overlooked, either. An unexpected, forced evacuation is very stressful. People must leave their work and community overnight. This period of prolonged anxiety is hard on people. Here are some support measures that we implemented to help our members and clients.

Impacts on water

Forest fires directly affect water sources. Forests are part of the water cycle because they capture and filter surface and groundwater. The cycle is disrupted when trees and plants are wiped out by flames. Without this vegetation, the water reserves cannot be replenished.

This results in less water and water that is contaminated with debris and ash. This affects humans, plants and animals, as well as the entire ecosystem.

What your home insurance covers

Home insurance policies cover the risks associated with forest fires. You could be entitled to accommodation expenses when your home is rendered uninhabitable due to fire, or when the authorities order you to evacuate. Be sure to read your policy or contact your insurer for more information. This will help you see things more clearly.

Round-the-clock prevention

If you live in a high-risk area, follow these tips to reduce the risk of fire on your property.

Upkeep your property

Remove piles of leaves and other flammable vegetation from your yard. Mow your lawn regularly. Long grass makes it easier for fire to spread. Be sure to check under your balcony for dry leaves and branches that accumulate there. Close off this space to better protect your home.

Don’t store propane, chemicals and wood in your home

Flammable materials can ignite in an instant and fuel the fire. The farther away these products are from your home, the safer it will be. Rule of thumb: keep flammable materials at least ten meters away from your house.

Plant deciduous trees around your home

Leaf trees catch fire less quickly than conifers because they don’t have needles or resin, both of which are flammable. The leaves on deciduous trees retain moisture, making them more fire resistant. If you like conifers, consider planting them more than ten metres from the house.

Trim your large trees

Clear the trunks to a height of 2 metres to prevent a surface fire from spreading to the treetops. By limiting a fire’s ability to spread, you reduce the risk to your home.

Choose appropriate siding

Natural wood is beautiful. But it burns very easily. Opt for metal, brick, stone or cement instead.

Install hoses on all outside taps

Make sure the hose can reach all the corners of your property. Make sure firefighters have easy access. Don’t forget to carefully roll up the hoses. They should unwind quickly without tangling.

Avoid decorative wood chips in flower beds

Replace traditional wood shavings, which are flammable, with river stones. This will limit the spread of fire.

Install a fence made of non-flammable materials

Pretty wooden fences are fine when installed at a reasonable distance from your home. Otherwise, it’s best to install fences and gates made of non-combustible material.

To help you limit the damage caused by flames inside your home, read our Six ways to prevent fires at home blog.

In short, forest fires are something we'll have to deal with more often from now on. Fortunately, your home insurance covers damages to your home and personal belongings. By reducing the risk of fire to our home, you can help prevent major damage.