Wildfire prevention tips for cottage country

A log cabin by the lake surrounded by trees

Canada experienced one of the most destructive wildfire seasons ever in 2023. With over 18 million hectares of land having burned across the country, the costs were staggering. In British Columbia alone, “Two wildfires in the southern interior caused more than $720 million in insured losses.” By early July 2023 “More than 150,000 Canadians have been forced to leave their homes.”

While we can’t entirely prevent the destruction caused by wildfires, we consulted with Shawn McKone, Senior Manager in Lifestyle Claims at Aviva, to get some some tips on what can be done to protect and mitigate wildfire damage to your client’s property.

1. Tree Care  

One of the differences between cottages and homes in the city is that cottages tend to be surrounded by heavily wooded areas, which can be a fuel source in hot and dry conditions.

“Tree care is that much more important in cottage country compared to primary residences. Embers can leap from burning trees over to the cottage, and once that happens, there is often little that can be done to put it out in a wildfire situation,” says McKone.

Some tips that help manage the risk from trees in fire season:

  • Remove dead and dying trees surrounding the property.
  • Remove trees near the home. The trees themselves are a fuel source, but their leaves, needles, and branches can also create a substantial amount of flammable debris in gutters and around the home.
  • Further from the cottage or cabin, pace trees out, and practice regular pruning.
  • Create a fire break on the outer perimeter of the property using driveways, walkways, retaining walls or rock-based landscaping.  

McKone continues, “It is important to understand that not all wildfires are large or burn large areas of forest. It’s not uncommon for us to see localized fires due to lightning strikes or other human causes.”

2. Property Maintenance

While managing trees at the property is very important, you should also pay attention to the general maintenance of the property.

“There are other sources of combustible materials that people don’t think about right away. This can include gardening materials, cluttered gutters, firewood, or even dead grass and bushes. Removing any potential fuel source can make a difference. Even a properly mowed lawn can cut back on the ability of a fire to spread,” suggests McKone.

What about fire resistant building materials?

Says McKone, “Fire resistance building and construction materials can involve more cost, but can be a worthwhile investment. If a client is in the process of a renovation or building a new structure, there are material options available to help minimize the risk of wildfire damage. For example, if a new roof is being installed, fire-resistant Class A roofing shingles are a better option than wood shakes. For every product, from siding, roofing to fences there are options to make a cottage or cabin more fire resistant.”

3. Fire Safety

What is better than spending time at your cottage around the fire with friends and family?

There are a number of important aspects to fire safety. First and foremost, you need to follow any fire restrictions that are in place for your area. If there is a provincial fire ban, then all rules need to be followed, which most often includes a ban on open fire pits, campfires, and certain types of cooking devices.

Even if there aren’t any restrictions, you and your clients can also regularly practice fire safety.

McKone suggests, “You should never leave a fire unattended, and when you are done, you need to put it out completely with water. Keep flammable debris away from the fire and be especially careful when it comes to very large, hot fires. Embers will spread quite far and can catch in nearby trees, or any accumulation of dried debris on the ground. Having a garden hose nearby is also a good practice if possible.”

If you aren’t sure on the best way of managing the property, there are contractors and arborists who do have experience with this. Not only can an arborist help identify and remove trees that are dying but can also recommend trees and plants that are more fire resistant.

If you have any questions, please contact your Broker Operations Specialist or your Broker Relationship Manager.

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