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.
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;
- the medications that each animal takes;
- a litter box for the cats, including extra litter;
- if possible, several blankets and toys.
If you cannot take your pets with you, put them in shelter, a boarding facility, or with a family member.
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).
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 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.
When smoke is present:
- avoid outdoor activities;
- close windows, doors, and air exchange systems;
- keep an eye on young children, seniors, and anyone who is sick in your family circle.
These recommendations apply particularly to people who are vulnerable to the effects of smoke, such as:
- people with asthma;
- people with heart or breathing problems, such as emphysema and chronic bronchitis.
If you need to go out, wearing an N95 mask might be a method of protection to consider. An N95 mask that fits well on the face can reduce respiratory symptoms and discomfort caused by smoke (cough, irritation and sore throat).
N95 masks are distributed by institutions in the health and social services network to people exposed to smoke. For further information, see the website of the CISSS or CIUSSS in your region .
Smoke can also affect the health of your domestic pets. They must remain indoors in the presence of smoke.
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 .
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 if convoy transport is organised?
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.
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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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 your reactions and those of your loved ones after experiencing a disaster:
- Anxiety, distress or frequent crying
- Apathy or loss of energy
- 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 information on the possible reactions after a disaster and on ways to help you, see the Getting better following a disaster page.
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.
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:
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.
Last update: August 30, 2023