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Here's what you need to do before you leave your house in a forest fire-prompted evacuation

Thousands of Canadians have had to leave their homes in several provinces over the last few weeks due to forest fires. But when an evacuation order comes, there’s more to consider than just your personal safety: what about the home you’re leaving behind?

Luckily, there are steps you can take to protect your property both prior to an evacuation and during.

The Canadian Red Cross (CRC) notes that it’s important to be aware of instructions from officials when there is the risk of needing to evacuate a community.

There’s a difference between an Evacuation Order and an Evacuation Alert, the agency says — an evacuation order means you need to leave the area immediately, following routes specified by officials, while an evacuation alert means you should be ready to leave if officials decide to elevate the situation to an evacuation order.

An evacuation alert is a good time to double check that you have your emergency plan and the essentials in order, such as grab-and-go bags that are filled with supplies to last three days.


So an evacuation hasn’t been ordered yet, but you’ve been monitoring the situation in your area, and it’s possible you may need to leave your home soon. You may be under an evacuation alert already, or merely aware that a forest fire is spreading in your direction.

Before leaving, what can you do to prepare your home?

You’ll want to make sure that you have an emergency plan for what you and your family are going to do in the event of an evacuation, including multiple escape routes and meeting places and the phone numbers of emergency contacts. You can find a template on the federal government’s website to create an emergency plan.

If under an evacuation alert, position your vehicle so the front is pointing down the driveway, with car windows closed, to make any exit as smooth and quick as possible. If you have any sort of gate on your driveway, secure it in an open position. Ensure your car has enough fuel to get to a safe location.

If the threat is a forest fire, according to CRC, you should move anything that could catch fire — or even explode — away from your home, such as firewood, lawn furniture or propane barbecues. These should be moved into the open, away from structures. If you store anything combustible under a deck, these should be moved also.

You should also ensure your address is clearly visible — such as numbers on the side of the house or signposts at the end of the driveway — so that fire crews will be able to locate your home easily in the event of an emergency.

If you live on a farm or ranch and need to leave livestock behind due to an unexpected emergency evacuation, the CRC advises leaving livestock unsheltered, to lessen the risk of them being trapped in a burning barn or structure.

Along with an emergency plan for your family, it helps to have a neighbourhood safety plan as well, so that you can co-ordinate with your neighbours to take care of one another, such as trading numbers and assigning “block buddies” who will be able to inform authorities of your home’s location if you are in trouble.

A release from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police this May added that if you have security devices such as cameras, you should ensure they have fresh batteries.

Prior to evacuating, you may also want to take pictures of valuables in your home if you’re concerned about robberies. You can also back up important files onto a USB that you can take with you.

You should have up to date photos of family members on you in case someone goes missing.


It’s time to leave your home for a safer area. What are the final things you need to do before evacuating?

First, ensure you have your emergency plan and your grab-and-go bag filled with emergency supplies. You can read up on how to make a grab-and-go bag here.

You should wear long-sleeved clothing and closed-toe shoes to protect yourself from potential flying embers. If you have lawn sprinklers, it’s a good idea to turn those on to wet the lawn in the hopes of warding away flames.

Before leaving your home, you should turn off your air conditioning, turn off your electricity and gas and close all doors, garage doors and windows, according to FireSmart Canada.

The RCMP advises that you leave some outdoor lights on to ensure your home is visible.

Make sure that you’ve let someone — family members or friends both in the area and outside of it — know that you’ve left your home and where you’re going, so that they can inform authorities if you don’t make it to your safe destination.

If you have pets, bring them with you, and lock your property behind you. Make sure that you are following routes specified by local authorities in order to stay on roads or pathways that are safe.


If you live in an area prone to forest fires, there are things you can do to protect your home long before an evacuation is imminent.

First, you should have smoke detectors installed on every floor of your home, as well as sprinklers if possible, and ensure that these are working.

Experts suggest you review your home insurance policy to see if you have appropriate wildfire coverage, especially since extreme weather is predicted to continue increasing due to the impacts of climate change.

“Unfortunately, many people do not realize what is covered under their policy until after a loss occurs. An insurance company is a commercial enterprise and in the business of making money, and accordingly, may dispute a claim if they perceive any ambiguity or potential exclusions,” Nainesh Kotak, founder of Kotak Personal Injury Law, said in a press release on Wednesday. “In some cases, they may delay payments and in others deny the claim altogether.”

Kotak advises homeowners to familiarize themselves with the conditions of their insurance and consider getting more insurance if their coverage is insufficient for the area they live in.

FireSmart Canada recommends that homeowners consider fire safety when planning and taking care of their yard, such as:

-keeping grass and weeds cut below 10 centimetres to make it harder for fire to spread;

-ensuring no evergreen trees are within 10 metres of your home due to their high flammability;

-using non-combustible materials within a 1.5-metre perimeter directly around the home and any decks in order to mitigate the risk of burning embers blowing onto the home;

-using stone gravel instead of pine needles or bark mulch within 10 metres of your home; and

-moving any wood piles far away from the home.

They also provide tips on their website for how to further fireproof your home, including purchasing non-combustible mesh to install behind vents. Top Stories


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