Protecting your cottage from forest fires

Fire prevention tips to keep your cottage safe

By Cottage LifeCottage Life


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Wildfire is part of the natural cycle of forest regeneration, opening mature stands of bush for new growth, killing pests, and in most cases, enriching the soil with a layer of fertile ash. Some tree species rely on fires to open their seed cones or prepare the ground for their seeds. For cottagers, of course, a forest fire that’s up close and personal is a less positive experience. If your cottage burns, it will not regenerate itself. Help keep your cottage safe with these fire prevention tips:

Wiener roasts and bonfires:

  • Follow local burning regulations and keep up-to-date on fire bans in the area by calling the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) or your local municipality.
  • Keep the fire small and away from other flammable materials.
  • Attend the fire at all times.
  • Have water and firefighting tools handy.
  • Burn in the evening and after dark, when the wind has settled and the humidity rises, and extinguish before sunrise.


Around the cottage:

  • Choose fire-resistant material when roofing or re-siding the cottage.
  • Select double-glazed or tempered windows over single-pane windows.
  • Close in eaves and screen soffits and vents to prevent embers from lodging and starting a fire.
  • If you burn wood in a stove or fireplace, keep your chimney clean and use a screened chimney cap to catch sparks and embers.
  • Maintain an open area around the cottage to create a firebreak. Bedrock, gravel, stone, or brick pathways, rock gardens, growing wildflowers, and green ground covers make good firebreaks.
  • Avoid storing firewood or fuel against the cottage or beneath the deck.
  • Keep overhanging conifers, small, dry twigs, and tall, dead grass away from the cottage. Green, actively growing grasses and flowers are more fire-resistant.
  • Consider thinning trees so crowns don’t touch or overlap.
  • Around the cottage, reduce debris, shrubs, and anything else in the forest understory that would allow the fire to climb or “ladder” into the crown, where it can become a fast and dangerous blaze.
  • Fire walks downhill but rolls rapidly uphill, so pay particular attention to removing fire hazards in areas downslope from the cottage.


If you experience a fire:

  • Keep the number of your local fire department handy, along with the forest fire reporting number for your province or area: in northeastern Ontario 1-888-863-FIRE (3473); northwestern Ontario 1-888-284-FIRE (3473).
  • If you have a fire pump and think you can control the blaze, anchor the pump at a spot offering a reliable source of water and an escape route (such as a cottage dock); if things get too hot, follow the hose back to safety.
  • An outdoor sprinkler system might be worth the price tag (around $5,000) if you’re in a frequently threatened area.


Girding for action:

  • Never attack a fire without scouting the area for hazards ranging from downed trees and uneven ground to live hydro lines.
  • If a fire is caused by a downed line, call your local utility and stay at least 15 metres away.
  • Avoid applying a direct stream of water to a hydro line. If necessary, fight the fire defensively by keeping the area in front of the fire wet, to keep it from spreading towards the cottage.

For more fire-prevention information, visit the Ministry of Natural Resources Fire Smart and Current Fire Situation

This article was originally published on October 4, 2006

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