Fire Safety: Preventing Forest Fires | Onlia

Fire Safety: Preventing Forest Fires

Read this before you head out for your next campfire or family beach BBQ.

Alex Kelly
by Alex Kelly

Late summer brings forest fire season and with it, the risk of devastating damage to people, homes, and the natural environment. Hot days and lack of rain, combined with flying sparks and hot embers, are the perfect recipe for starting forest fires – just one spark can have deadly consequences. And while even small campfire cooking can become dangerous quickly, we'll help you make fire safety easy with some basic knowledge and preparation.

Forest fires are wild blazes that can grow out of control quickly, caused by things like bonfires, cooking fires, smoking, fireworks, or stray sparks. While often unintentional, forest fires can be fast-moving and devastating. They can clear land, destroy natural habitats, and burn homes to the ground. To combat this, Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry designates April 1st to October 31st as the province’s fire season, mandating that residents abide by the Forest Fires Prevention Act to ensure protection against fires. 

When blazes do crop up, government officials are quick to investigate the causes. Eager to hold those responsible, officials will charge guilty parties with the cost of extinguishing the fire. The Forest Fires Prevention Act reminds the public that they are solely responsible for the impact of their fire  even if it’s a small, planned burn.

Safety starts with location

While your end goal for a campfire may be to roast marshmallows or grill burgers, safety should always be top of mind. Think of fires as having three steps: 

  1. Setting

  2. Maintaining

  3. Extinguishing

Staying diligent throughout all three phases is critical for a successful burn, and ensures that the fire is completely out before you leave a site. 

Setting a fire starts before you even arrive at the site. Check local regulations to see if there are fire restriction zones; typically allocated based on weather conditions and brush dryness, the restrictions are updated frequently. Zones are indicated with large red signs along roadways, at popular campsites, in sports lodges, as well as local shops and gas stations. 

Municipalities may require permit approval for where and when campfires are allowed. Whether you are staying local or travelling to a new destination, check on local bylaws to see where you can host a beach BBQ or plan for some campfire cooking. If officials feel that a fire – whether permitted or not threatens the safety of the area, they carry full authority to ask you to put it out, or even extinguish it themselves. 


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Start (and extinguish) a great fire

Once you know you’re in an approved site, pick a spot that is close to water and sheltered from the wind. The surface for your campfire should be on a non-combustible surface like rocks or dirt, and at least one metre away from any flammable materials. Check overhead as well – branches and other vegetation should have at least three metres of clearance from your fire. 

Smaller fires (about one metre wide by one metre high) are easier to control, and increase the safety of cooking on a campfire. Just in case things do get out of control, have a bucket and shovel nearby to douse the blaze. Even small fires can flare up quickly, so it's critical to stay nearby while it burns. However, always keep kids and pets at a safe distance away to protect them from open flames. 

When your campfire time has come to a close, extinguishing the fire is just as important as setting it. The recommended approach is to carefully and slowly pour water on the fire, stirring ashes with a stick to make sure it's entirely doused. Continue to soak with water and stir ashes until: 

  1. Ashes are soaked and cool to touch

  2. They don’t hiss when water is poured on top

  3. There’s no smoke coming from them

When in doubt, call it out

If you create a fire that can’t be contained, or spot flames and smoke in the distance, the government recommends calling the local emergency number. In Ontario, dial 911 for concerns south of the French and Mattawa rivers, or 310-FIRE(3473) if you’re north of the rivers. It is always better to be safe than sorry – even if you’ve done your fire protection homework before sparking up a campfire.

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