Outside the cottage
1. Store fuel, firewood, and other combustible materials at least 10 metres from the cottage.
2. Keep roof and rain gutters free of dried leaves and pine needles. Install a screened cap on your chimney.
3. Keep firefighting tools (a bucket of water or sand, shovels, and a garden hose) handy when you’re having a bonfire or burning brush.
4. Keep barbecues clean, and be on hand when you’re using the stove or the grill. “Cooking is the leading cause of home fires in the province, and often that’s unattended cooking,” explains Ryan Betts, program specialist with Public Fire Safety education in the Office of the Fire marshal.
5. If you allow smoking at the cottage, establish a safe smoking area with a sand- or water-filled can for butts. Ask visitors to use the area and stub the butts out in the can.
Inside the cottage
6. Learn how your smoke alarms work and test them at least monthly. Ontario’s Fire Code requires them on every storey and outside all sleeping areas. Regularly replace the batteries and replace the alarm itself every eight years. If you have an appliance fired by wood or fossil fuel, or an attached garage, install a carbon-monoxide detector.
7. Develop a fire escape plan. Designate family members who are responsible to help guests, people who may have trouble getting out on their own, and pets. Keep keys and cellphones in a handy place, so they can be found during a hasty exit. Once everyone is out and accounted for at a meeting place, call 911 or your local emergency number and report the fire.
8. Keep the local emergency number and directions to the cottage handy at a designated spot and saved on your mobile phone. Make sure guests know where to find them.
9. Clean and check your chimney regularly. Maintain fuel burning appliances.
10. Know your exits. “We need to take a page from the air-lines: here’s where the exits are,” says Ryan Betts, program specialist, Public Fire Safety education with the Office of the Fire marshal. “It sounds nerdy, but if you’re a stranger in a strange place, you need to know this stuff.” Once outside, move to a spot where arriving neighbours and firefighters can see you. “You want to make sure they know everyone is accounted for, so they don’t have to put themselves at risk to rescue you,” Betts adds.
11. Install fire extinguishers in the kitchen, garage, and boathouse, and in any powerboats, and learn how to use them. Ensure they’re maintained and pressurized as per the manufacturer’s instructions. (When fighting a fire with an extinguisher, always keep an escape route behind you.)
12. Ensure your address number is visible from the road. Consider ways to make your lane easier to navigate for large fire vehicles.
13. Properly dispose of ashes from wood-burning appliances. Put ashes in sand or in mineral soil in a steel bucket (but don’t leave the hot bucket on the wood deck), then spread and bury them, or treat them like a campfire and put water or snow on top.