You can prepare for potential hazards by having a plan in place to deal with the anticipated impacts of an event. Having your plan and emergency kit prepared in advance is the best way to support your family and pets. You may need to Shelter in Place or “hunker down” in your home for at least 72 hours (3 days) without needing to leave for supplies. Plan to be without power in many hazards that could occur.
Wildfires are a natural hazard in any forested and grassland region in Canada. Forest fires or wildfires are common occurrences from May to September and can cause extensive damage and put lives in danger. Natural Resources Canada's Canadian Wildland Fire Information System provides detailed information about wildfire conditions across Canada. The weather has a significant impact on wildfires – in how they start, how aggressively they spread, and how long they burn. Find out the current fire danger rating in your area and other information about fire weather.
Before a wildfire
- If your community is surrounded by brush, grassland or forest, follow these instructions to prepare your home and family for potential wildfires.
- Prepare an emergency kit.
- Check for, and remove, fire hazards in and around your home, such as dried-out branches, leaves and debris.
- Keep a good sprinkler in an accessible location.
- Learn fire safety techniques and teach them to members of your family.
- Have fire drills with your family on a regular basis.
- Maintain first-aid supplies to treat the injured until help arrives.
- Have an escape plan so that all members of the family know how to get out of the house quickly and safely.
- Have an emergency plan so family members can contact each other in case they are separated during an evacuation.
- Make sure all family members are familiar with the technique of "STOP, DROP, AND ROLL" in case of clothes catching on fire.
- Make sure every floor and all sleeping areas have smoke detectors.
- Consult with your local fire department about making your home fire-resistant. Visit www.firesmart.ca
- If you are on a farm/ranch, sheltering livestock may be the wrong thing to do because a wildfire could trap animals inside, causing them to burn alive. Leaving animals unsheltered is preferable, or if time and personal safety permits, evacuation away from the danger zone should be considered.
- When driving, dragging tow chains, a blown-out tire, a discarded cigarette butt, or even parking on dry grass can spark a fire.
- Off-highway vehicle riders should stop regularly to remove debris that has been collected in their hotspots. The heat from the exhaust system can cause debris to ignite which can lead to a wildfire when it falls to the ground.
If you see a wildfire approaching your home
- If you see a fire approaching your home or community, report it immediately by dialing 9-1-1. If it is safe, and there is time before the fire arrives, you should take the following action:
- Close all windows and doors in the house.
- Cover vents, windows, and other openings of the house with duct tape and/or precut pieces of plywood.
- Park your car, positioned forward out of the driveway. Keep car windows closed and have your valuables already packed in your car.
- Turn off propane or natural gas. Move any propane barbeques into the open, away from structures.
- Turn on the lights in the house, porch, garage, and yard.
- Inside the house, move combustible materials away from the windows (for example, light curtains and furniture).
- Place a ladder to the roof in the front of the house.
- Put lawn sprinklers on the roof of the house and turn on the water.
- Move all combustibles away from the house, including firewood and lawn furniture.
- Evacuate your family and pets to a safe location.
- Stay tuned to your local radio station for up-to-date information on the fire and possible road closures.
During a wildfire
- Monitor local radio stations.
- Be prepared to evacuate at any time. If told to evacuate, do so.
- Keep all doors and windows closed in your home.
- Remove flammable drapes, curtains, awnings, or other window coverings.
- Keep lights on to aid visibility in case smoke fills the house.
- If sufficient water is available, turn sprinklers on to wet the roof and any water-proof valuables.
Environmental Health due to Wildfires
Smoke from wildfires is a mixture of gases and fine particles from burning trees and other plant materials. Smoke can irritate your eyes and respiratory system and worsen chronic heart and lung diseases.
- How to tell if smoke could be affecting you. Smoke can cause:
- scratchy throat
- irritated, runny nose and sinuses
- shortness of breath
- chest pain
- runny nose
- worsening of asthma symptoms
- If you have heart or lung disease, smoke might make your symptoms worse. People who have heart disease might experience —
- chest pain
- rapid heartbeat
- shortness of breath
- Smoke may worsen symptoms for people who have pre-existing respiratory conditions, such as asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), in the following ways:
- inability to breathe normally
- cough with or without mucus
- chest discomfort
- wheezing and shortness of breath
- When smoke levels are high enough, even healthy people may experience some of these symptoms.
Know whether you are at risk
- If you have heart or lung disease, such as congestive heart failure, angina, COPD, emphysema, or asthma, you may be at higher risk of having health problems than healthy people.
- Older adults and children are more likely to be affected by smoke.
- Older adults may be more at risk because they are more likely to have heart or lung diseases than younger people.
- Children are more likely to be affected because their airways are still developing and because they breathe more air per pound of bodyweight than adults. Children also are more likely to be active outdoors.
- Limit your exposure to smoke.
- Pay attention to local air quality reports. Listen and watch for news or health warnings about smoke. Check the Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) for the area nearest you at Air Quality Health Index. Also, pay attention to public health messages about taking additional safety measures.
- If you are advised to stay indoors, keep indoor air as clean as possible. Keep windows and doors closed unless it is extremely hot outside. Run an air conditioner if you have one but keep the fresh-air intake closed and the filter clean to prevent outdoor smoke from getting inside. If you do not have an air conditioner and it is too warm to stay inside with the windows closed, seek shelter elsewhere.
- Do not add to indoor pollution. When smoke levels are high, do not use anything that burns, such as candles, fireplaces, or gas stoves. Do not vacuum, because vacuuming stirs up particles already inside your home. Do not smoke, because smoking puts even more pollution into the air.
- Follow your doctor's advice about medicines and about your respiratory management plan if you have asthma or another lung disease. Call your doctor if your symptoms worsen.
- Do not rely on dust masks for protection. Paper "comfort" or "dust" masks commonly found at hardware stores are designed to trap large particles, such as sawdust. These masks will not protect your lungs from smoke.
- To understand where the fire smoke is travelling, visit FireSmoke Canada
Sources: Get Prepared and Environmental Health: Emergencies and Extreme Weather Events - Wildfires