As a wildfire rages in Alberta, destroying homes, communities, and forests, experts are saying the blaze was likely started by humans. And people aren’t just at the root of the Fort McMurray Fire—across Canada, humans are the leading cause of wildfires, starting more fires than lightning strikes.
These tips will help you enjoy your time in nature responsibly, and help ensure your favourite spots are around for years to come. Remember, while enjoying the outdoors is wonderful, our first responsibility is to nature.
Show your love for cottage country and take care of it!
Always look up fire regulations and bans in your area
The Fort McMurray fire is still raging, and yet in nearby Edmonton, where there is currently a fire ban, there have been over 110 reports of people using fire pits. In recent days, there have been several fires that have gotten out of control, requiring the help of the fire department. Fire bans are usually publicized in the news, and signs are hung at campgrounds—and there is no opting out! Some fire bans even include things like barbecues, so it’s good to check and see what current regulations are.
When you do build a fire, follow these steps
So you’ve checked that there’s no fire ban, and you’re ready to roast hot dogs and s’mores. Great! First step: check for wind. If it’s too gusty, you should probably put off the fire and have a potato-salad night. No wind? Perfect. Clear an area around your fire, making sure there’s no flammable debris in reach of the flames. While the fire is burning, make sure there’s always someone around to attend it. And when you’re done, extinguish the fire completely with water. Make sure there is absolutely no life left in the flames, and then stir the ashes around, making sure the ground you leave behind is cool and moist.
Keep your candles stable and covered
While they may seem innocently small, candles are a leading cause of home fires. Their miniature flames can reach a temperature of 1,400°C! Indoors or outdoors, if you use candles, keep them in a sturdy container that can’t be toppled, and keep them away from burnable objects. We suggest using something like a mason jar to shield the flame. It’s safer, and, bonus, it looks charming!
Make sure your vehicles are up to snuff
If you’ll be driving your car through forested areas, ensure that it has a proper exhaust system. A lot of vehicles have spark arrestors, which prevent engines from emitting flammable debris, but they’re not legally required everywhere. Make sure your car has a spark arrester and that its exhaust system is working properly. Same with your chainsaw, leaf blower, and any other device with a similar motor.
Pulverize your cigarette butts
If you smoke, do it carefully. In 2002, 9,414 fires in Canada were caused by cigarettes and “smokers’ material.” If you have to smoke, go to an area where you’re not surrounded by flammable material and debris, and ash into an ashtray or receptacle. And when you’re done, destroy your cigarette, ensuring there is absolutely no spark left in it. Our favourite tip is to keep an old beer or soda bottle half full of water and drop your butts in there.
Have an all-terrain vehicle? Keep it on the road/gravel
Yes, we know it’s a cruel irony. All-terrain vehicles are made to drive just about anywhere! However, the undersides of ATVs generate a huge amount of heat and can ignite grasses and brush as they drive over. So use your ATV on the road, on gravel or dirt, or on snow.
Be extremely careful with fireworks
Never set off fireworks during a fire ban, or in an area with lots of brush or flammable debris. The safest way to see fireworks is at a show put on by pros (they’re always a lot more impressive too), but if you’re in a situation where you’re allowed to set off your own, do it in an area without any flammable material within a few hundred feet (a beach is a good idea). Keep water and extinguishers nearby, and keep track of where fireworks land to make sure they are extinguished properly. Read the safety instructions that come with fireworks, and if in doubt about conditions, leave the fireworks and go hunting for fireflies instead.