Forest fires occur frequently in Québec, often being caused by human activity. If you are an outdoor enthusiast or if you live in a wooded area, it is important for you to take preventive measures to avoid starting a forest fire. These fires can result in considerable property losses, and even loss of life.
Obtain the current fire danger and prevention measures information from the Société de protection des forêts contre le feu (SOPFEU).
Refer to the advice for property owners on how to reduce the risks associated with forest fires (in French only) prepared by the Ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs.
Protect your house and your property
Control vegetation around your home, your cottage or your trailer, if in a forest or in the vicinity of one, to avoid the concentration of flammable plants close to buildings.
Delineate a fire stop (area with no trees, hay or wood) between plants and buildings.
Store building materials, firewood and propane tanks more than 10 m away from any building.
Clear away all vegetation within a radius of 3 m of a propane storage tank in order to reduce the risk of a fire spreading.
Keep near your home a hose or a water supply of at least 200 litres in order to take prompt action in the event of a fire.
If you smoke outdoors, put out your cigarette against a rock or bury it in the ground (having no humus or organic material).
The roofing material and siding material are the most vulnerable building components. Remove any combustible debris and properly maintain the roof and siding to reduce the risk of fire. A thorough inspection and regular maintenance are needed to reduce the risk of fire caused by direct flames, but also by firebrands, sparks and embers carried by the wind.
Inspect your windows and doors, including the garage door, testing their seals and thereby preventing materials on fire to enter.
Regularly clean your deck by removing debris. Do not store combustible materials beneath it (e.g. wood, propane tank).
Prepare yourself before taking part in activities in the forest
Always respect the municipal bylaws governing outdoor fires.
Do not smoke in, or near, the forest.
Check whether an open-fire ban, in the forest or in its vicinity, is in effect.
To ensure safety when making a campfire, follow the 5 steps below:
- Choose a cleared location on mineral soil, which contains no combustible material (leaves, grass or other).
- Start a fire with a maximum dimension of one metre by one metre.
- Monitor your fire constantly and always have water handy.
- Extinguish your fire by dousing it with water and stirring the embers.
- Check to make sure that the ashes are no longer giving off any heat.
When camping or during a stay in a controlled harvesting zone (ZEC), consult the fire danger signs at park entrances to learn of the danger of fire.
Comply with the signs posted, particularly in the vicinity of forest roads, regardless of the means of transportation used (car, on foot, ATV, canoe, aircraft).
Respect the safety perimeters established when there is a ban on access to and movement in the forest.
Determine a number of escape routes, since a forest fire can restrict or block traffic.
Determine a safe place to take refuge if evacuation is not possible.
Keep the windows of your vehicle closed and circulate air inside the vehicle only to prevent smoke from entering the vehicle.
Make sure that nothing is missing from your car’s emergency kit (French only) and that it is in the trunk of your vehicle.
Inform your loved ones of your trip and the route that you will take.
Ensure that your vehicle is mechanically sound and has sufficient fuel to make it to your destination.
Protect your health from the effects of smoke
Listen carefully to public notices and warnings about the presence of smoke or the air quality.
Avoid outdoor activities when the air quality index is poor.
Close the windows and doors of your home, along with the air exchange system, when there is smoke outdoors.
Breathe into a damp cloth when in the presence of thick smoke, and be sure to keep the cloth in front of your mouth and nose in order to avoid inhaling smoke.
Smoke is more likely to bother the following individuals:
- young children
- the elderly
- individuals with respiratory problems (asthma, bronchitis, home-assisted ventilation, restricted breathing capacity, emphysema, etc.)
- individuals with heart problems
To protect your pet from the detrimental effects of smoke, do not let your pet go outside.
Protect your property against the risk of fire
When the spread of fire is not putting your safety and that of your loved ones in jeopardy, protect your property by:
- Secure the perimeter of your house by moving all combustible materials and equipment (e.g. construction wood, wooden patio furniture, propane tank) far from the house.
- Remove dry branches, leaves and other vegetation and move them far from your home.
- Using fire-resistant materials, temporarily block openings that could let material on fire enter your house (e.g. range hood and ventilation vents having defective dampers, openings near doors or windows).
- Connect your garden hoses to the outside tap in case of need.
- Work in collaboration with your neighbours to maximize everyone’s efforts.
For more information on how to protect your property or for advice tailored to your region, contact your fire safety service or the SOPFEU .
Leave your home if you are in danger or at the request of the authorities. If you are unsure where to go, contact your municipality. For more details, consult the government’s Evacuate your home page.
Follow the instructions and recommendations for a safe evacuation.
Close the doors and windows of your home and lock its doors before leaving.
If you have the time, and if possible:
- abundantly water the ground around your house, as well as the roof.
- Shut off the electrical supply.
- Contact your natural gas distributor to shut off the natural gas. Note that your municipality’s fire department can also see to it that your natural gas supply is shut off in an emergency situation.
Before leaving, pack essential items for all members of your family:
- Personal hygiene items
- Extra clothes
- Identification documents
- Car and house keys
- Milk, bottles and diapers for infants
- Electronic devices and accessories for connecting them
- Items for the wellbeing of family members with special needs
Gather all of your family members and go to the location designated for in your evacuation plan.
Take your pets with you, if possible. However, do not jeopardize your safety if you are unable to find them or take them with you.
Advise family or friends, as well as municipal officials, of where you intend to take shelter.
If you go to a temporary housing centre set up by the authorities, where services will be offered to you, register with the staff on-site.
When evacuating, respect the signage in place and, where applicable, the safety perimeters established by the authorities.
Remember that designated, competent authorities actively monitor evacuated areas in order to ensure that the sites remain secure.
Walk around your house to identify any issues (e.g. electrical lines on the ground, smell of gas, large pieces of debris, hot spots that could ignite).
Identify signs that could indicate structural issues (for example: weakened roof sections, damaged framing, buckled walls, cracks in the ceilings, weakened floors, doors that no longer close). If you have any doubts, call specialized contractors with valid licenses.
Pay attention to stress reactions after a disaster:
- Apathy or loss of energy
- Increased alcohol or drug use
Appropriate psychological guidance can help you cope with responsibilities stemming from the situation. Contact Info-Santé at 811 and select Info-Social to speak with a social worker. This confidential service is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Consumption and use of water
Find out whether your water is drinkable, i.e. fit for consumption. In case of uncertainty as to the colour, odour or taste of your water, contact the municipal authorities before using it.
If you have a private well, have your well water tested (French only) by an accredited laboratory if you notice sudden changes in the water’s taste, odour, or appearance.
If you suspect chemical contamination, do not drink the water. Moreover, boiling water exposed to chemical contamination, especially hydrocarbons, is not recommended. In that situation, drink only bottled water.
Food and medications
If the power has been off more than six hours, check the quality of food before eating it. Throw out any food that shows signs of deterioration. Consult Power outage and your food (French only) for information on deciding what to keep and what to throw out from your refrigerator and freezer.
For the same reason, do not take any medications that must be stored in a cool place but were not. Return them to the pharmacy.
Cleaning your home
A number of actions need to be taken to effectively and safely clean your home after significant smoke damage:
- To eliminate odours, ventilate rooms adequately for a number of hours by opening windows and setting up portable fans to help “push” odours outside.
- While wearing gloves, remove dust and soot with soap and water.
- Do not use a broom or a vacuum because they tend to displace dust, rather than remove it.
- Thoroughly clean children’s toys and items that you use often.
- Wash all clothing that smells of smoke.
- Dispose of soaking wet materials that were used to extinguish the fire (such as plasterboard and glass wool insulation) and check that the wood’s moisture content is below 15%. Ventilate the space, paying particular attention to the risk of mould development.
- If necessary, clean the ventilation systems and their components. Replace filters, as needed, and turn ventilation systems back on.
- Consult a garment and textile cleaning specialist to arrange for the cleaning of dirty or smoke-damaged fabric items (e.g. sofas and mattresses) or toys and stuffed animals.
Protect yourself during clean-up work
Avoid any risk of poisoning due to carbon monoxide (a colourless, odourless, tasteless gas that can be fatal):
- Never use equipment such as pumps or generators powered by gas, gasoline, etc., inside buildings or near doors or windows.
- Never obstruct an appliance’s air intake or exhaust system.
- During clean-up, check air quality regularly using a carbon monoxide detector designed for industrial use, or wear a personal detector with an audio or visual alarm.
- Get out immediately dial 911 for assistance and leave the door open to ventilate the premises thoroughly if your carbon monoxide detector goes off, or if you or someone else in your household is experiencing symptoms such as:
Carefully remove all debris from your yard.
If you spot a telecommunication company cable or wire on the ground, contact the company.
Ask your municipality about permits required before proceeding with any backfilling, excavation or work to stabilize a riverbank.
Manage your residual materials (French only) in accordance with standards in effect.
Be wary of salespersons and contractors who might take advantage of the emergency situation or your distress to increase their prices, for example. You must promptly contact the Office de la protection du consommateur or your municipality to report such practices.
If you must have work done in the wake of a disaster, first discuss the matter with your insurer to agree on the amounts granted. Once you are fully informed, avoid signing any agreement while in an emotional state.
If you are unable to pay suppliers’ or creditors’ invoices because of the situation, contact the customer service offices of your suppliers or your financial institution in order to make arrangements.
Contact Services Québec for information on the programs and services provided by the Gouvernement du Québec or to replace cards, permits, licences or certificates issued by government ministries and organizations.
Other useful links
- Gestion des feux de forêt au Québec (Forest fire management in Quebec) (French only)
- Canadian Lightning Danger Map - Quebec - Québec
- Printable guide – What to before, during and after a forest fire (PDF 1.50 Mb)
- Wildfire smoke and your health
Last update: January 5, 2021