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.

What to do before

Prepare an emergency kit.

Obtain the current fire danger and prevention measures information This hyperlink will open in a new window. 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 This hyperlink will open in a new window. (in French only) prepared by the Ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs.

Learn about everyone's roles and responsibilities in the event of a disaster

In an emergency or a disaster, you are the first person responsible for your safety (French only) and that of your family, as well as safeguarding your property. In the event of a disaster, however, municipalities are responsible for helping the people affected and for taking the necessary measures.

When a municipality's response capacity is insufficient, the Gouvernement du Québec provides assistance (French only) by deploying government resources to facilitate the return to normal, based on what is provided for in Québec’s national civil protection plan.

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).

Follow weather bulletins and fire danger indexes by consulting the media or by visiting SOPFEU’s page Restrictions in effect This hyperlink will open in a new window. and Environment Canada’s Public Weather Alerts This hyperlink will open in a new window..

Take good care of your pets in the event of an evacuation

Prepare an emergency kit that can easily be transported in a vehicle.

The kit should include:

  • pet carriers;
  • leashes and harnesses, even for cats;
  • vaccination and health records;
  • photos of the animals to identify them;
  • a list of drugs and prescriptions;
  • reserves of water and food sufficient for seven days per animal;
  • bowls, utensils, and can openers;
  • a litter box for the cats, including extra litter;
  • if possible, several blankets and toys.

If you cannot take your pets with you, leave them with a family member or friend or in a temporary pet boarding facility. As a last resort, contact a shelter such as the SPCA that might under exceptional circumstances agree to shelter them during the evacuation.

Prevent forest fires during outdoor activities

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:

  1. Choose a cleared location on mineral soil, which contains no combustible material (leaves, grass or other).
  2. Start a fire with a maximum dimension of one metre by one metre.
  3. Monitor your fire constantly and always have water handy.
  4. Extinguish your fire by dousing it with water and stirring the embers.
  5. Check to make sure that the ashes are no longer giving off any heat.
  6. Avoid smoke inhalation as much as possible or standing under the fire plume if you have a breathing or heart problem.

When camping or during a stay in a controlled harvesting zone (ZEC), consult the fire danger signs This hyperlink will open in a new window. at park entrances to learn of the danger of fire.

What to do during

Before setting out, check road conditions This hyperlink will open in a new window. on Québec 511 website or call 511.

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 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.

Monitor the situation

Consult official information sources to monitor the situation and comply with the instructions and recommendations that the authorities transmit. 

  • Register with your municipal alert service to receive important information. 
  • Consult the websites and follow the social media accounts of the authorities concerned by the event such as your municipality, Urgence Québec, and the Québec government.
  • Listen to local radio and television stations.

Protect your health from the effects of smoke

Smoke is more likely to bother:  

  • young children; 
  • the elderly; 
  • individuals suffering from respiratory problems such as asthma, bronchitis, restricted respiratory capacity, and emphysema, or who rely on home ventilatory assistance; 
  • people with cardiac conditions.  

Ensure their well-being and do not hesitate to assist them if necessary.

Exposure to smoke can cause symptoms such as headaches, a mild cough, and irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat. Find out more about the health effects of forest fire smoke This hyperlink will open in a new window. (French only).

To protect yourself from smoke:  

  • avoid outdoor activities when the Air Quality Index This hyperlink will open in a new window. (French only) is poor;
  • close windows, doors, air exchange systems, and any other access to outside air;
  • avoid strenuous physical activities even if you are far from the area affected by a forest fire.

If you must remain outdoors, wearing an N95 mask can reduce your exposure to smoke-borne fine particulate matter. If you do wear a mask, be sure that it is certified by NIOSH or the equivalent and that it is properly adjusted to your clean-shaven face with the straps tightened. You should not feel air flowing between the mask and your face.   

It should be noted that N95 masks are not available for children. Similarly, medical masks, cloth face covers, and wet cloths do not afford effective protection from smoke.

If you feel sick despite all the precautions taken, contact Info-Santé by dialling 811.

Smoke can also affect the health of domestic pets, which must stay indoors when it is present. Let pets out solely to relieve themselves and avoid exercise outdoors.

Preventive measures for workers

Workers likely to be exposed to smoke plumes in the performance of their duties can consult the preventive measures This hyperlink will open in a new window. (French only) transmitted by the Commission des normes, de l’équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail (CNESST).

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 This hyperlink will open in a new window..

What to do when airtankers are present

When the SOPFEU’s intervention is necessary to fight forest fires, airtankers may support the work of forest firefighters. For your safety and to avoid hampering the work of emergency response teams, do not approach firefighting zones.

If you are on a water body:

  • Immediately return to the shore. While the aircrafts’ operation is spectacular, you must not approach them.

If you are near a fire on which airtankers are releasing water:

  • Leave the site if you can do so. An airtanker releases 6 tonnes of water, which poses a significant threat to an individual.
  • If you cannot leave the drop zone in time, shelter behind a tree opposite the direction of the aircraft’s approach and hang on tight. In the absence of trees, lie face down on the ground with your head oriented in the direction from which the aircraft is coming.

Do not fly a drone over a forest fire since its presence can put the airtankers’ work at risk.

What to do if road convoys are organized

Road convoys can be organized if residences are isolated by a nearby forest fire in order to provide supplies or evacuate the occupants, if the need arises.

Depending on the situation, a transport convoy may be organized to allow residents who are isolated because of a nearby fire to replenish their supplies or evacuate their home, if necessary.

In such case, follow the authorities’ instructions and take only the route intended for this purpose:

  • Follow the escort vehicle.
  • Passing is not allowed.
  • Never stop.

Evacuation

Evacuate your home if you feel that your safety is at risk or if the authorities require you to do so. If you do not know where to go, contact your municipality to find out whether temporary shelter is available.

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.
  • Disconnect the electricity and gas supply if the authorities ask you to do so. Refer to the manufacturer’s or the service provider’s directives. If an odour is perceptible or natural gas equipment is visibly damaged, immediately leave your home and contact your natural gas distributor’s emergency service.

Domestic pets

If an evacuation notice is issued, put your domestic pets in a safe place or take them with you to the temporary accommodation centre if it is allowed. Do not put your safety at risk if you cannot find them or take them with you.

As a last resort, keep them indoors:

  • leave the animals in a room that is easy to clean, sufficiently ventilated and windowless, such as the bathroom or garage;
  • give them sufficient water and food; if possible, fill a big container with tap water or partly fill the bathtub.

Never leave your domestic pets tied up or confined indoors.

Put a visible sign on the house or near the entrances indicating the presence and number of animals per interior space.

Farm animals

The owners of farm animals and their staff should be aware of the risks for their animals, elaborate an emergency plan, and prepare an emergency kit for their establishment. The emergency plan should include risk-reduction measures, an evacuation or confinement plan for the animals, and water, food, and electricity supply in the event of prolonged confinement. 

What to do after

If the authorities allow it and there is no risk to your safety, you can go home. It's best to go during the day, when problems and hazards are easier to see.

Returning to your home when the fire is not completely extinguished

Traffic may resume in a territory before the fire is completely extinguished. The individuals affected can access the territory, in particular to observe the state of their houses or cottages.

If you return to your home when the fire is not completely extinguished:

  • avoid areas where the fire is still burning and smoke, hot spots, or flames are present;
  • avoid moving or touching accessories that forest firefighters used on site, especially pumps, hoses, and rain gauges;
  • do not approach the landing sites of firefighting helicopters;
  • move away from areas where helicopters and airtankers release water;
  • be careful around fire-damaged trees and roots since wind and shocks can fell them;
  • avoid any behaviour such as tossing a cigarette butt on the ground, lighting a camp fire, burning garbage, or travelling on an ATV that is likely to start a new fire. A fire site is very dry and has a very high flammability level;
  • comply with the flight prohibitions (NOTAM) in force in the territory of a going fire to avoid hampering the SOPFEU’s aerial operations;
  • do not fly a drone over going fires. When a drone appears in the SOPFEU’s operations perimeter, all aerial operations are halted until the drone leaves. Canadian aviation regulations governing free flight stipulate that drones must be at least 9 km from a disaster zone, including a forest fire, on penalty of a fine.

Make sure your home is safe

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.

Take stock of damage

Make a list of the damage and take photos or videos as proof. Notify your municipality, insurance company and mortgage lender of the damage. For claim purposes, keep all receipts or proofs of purchase for damaged property.

If extensive work must be carried out before you can return to your home, secure the premises to keep away looters and curious bystanders:

  • Lock the doors
  • Barricade the windows
  • Cover damaged areas

Choose recognized specialized firms for evaluation, cleaning or disinfection services, or repair work. Keep all the receipts related to those expenses.

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 This hyperlink will open in a new window. (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 medication conservation

When a residence is located within a zone touched by a forest fire, hermetically packaged non-perishable food (e.g. canned food, cookies, cereals, pasta) can be consumed; however, it is important to thoroughly clean the containers before opening them. Non-perishable foods that are not hermetically packaged (e.g. flour, salt, sugar) should not be consumed. As well, all food that smells of smoke, including animal food, should be discarded.

Vegetable garden Should there be dust or soot particles on your fruit and vegetables grown above ground, such as strawberries or lettuce, follow these recommendations when you harvest them:

  • Carry out a visual inspection of the crops while harvesting them. Discard any plants, fruits and vegetables that appear to have deteriorated or smell of smoke.
  • Clean and rinse harvested plants, fruits and vegetables with drinking water.
  • Wipe or scrub food surfaces, where necessary.
  • Peel all foods having a peel.
  • Remove the outer leaves of lettuce. Vegetables that grow in the ground are not likely to be contaminated and need only to be carefully washed before being eaten.

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 Store or throw away your food after a power outage or flood (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:
    • headache
    • nausea
    • fatigue
    • vomiting
    • dizziness
    • weakness

If in doubt, call Info-Santé at 811. In the event of a serious problem or urgent need, call 911 or go to your hospital emergency.

Cleaning your yard

Warning notice

Fallen electric wires

Never approach a fallen electric wire. Immediately call 911. There is a high risk that a fallen wire and the surrounding ground are live.

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 This hyperlink will open in a new window. (French only) in accordance with standards in effect.

Protect yourself against abusive practices

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 This hyperlink will open in a new window. 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.

Possible reactions and psychosocial support available

Pay attention to your reactions and those of your loved ones after experiencing a disaster:

  • Anxiety, distress or frequent crying
  • Apathy or loss of energy
  • Aggressiveness
  • Difficulty concentrating or confusion
  • Increased alcohol or drug use

Psychosocial support is available to you. Psychosocial intervention professionals are available to support, advise and direct you to resources tailored to your needs or those of your loved ones. Call Info-Social, at 811, and select option 2 to speak with a professional. This service is free and confidential, and it is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

For more informations on the possible reactions after a disaster and on ways to help you, see the Getting better following a disaster page.

Last update: May 24, 2024

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