How to make your home safe from forest fire

Forest fire can start at all times of the year, but in many countries in the Northern Hemisphere now is the beginning of the “fire season” as land starts to dry out after the spring rain, most notably in Spain, France, Greece, Italy, Cyprus, Portugal, Canada and the USA. Check out these 8 tips to help reduce the risk of fire to your property.

Firefighter hosing a raging forest fire

Fire is beautiful and fire is terrifying. It can bring back life and it can destroy it. The thought of a house fire is one of the most chilling (pun intended) nightmares that a home owner can face. So, it makes sense to be aware of potential risks.

Familiarizing yourself with appropriate forest fire preventive measures not only helps you become a more aware individual when it comes to protecting the safety and natural resources in your region, it could also help save your family home.

1. Clear the area around your property from anything that catches on fire easily, including scrub and undergrowth. Why is this so important?

  • Fire can’t spread to cleared properties as quickly as it does to properties that have dry undergrowth close to them.
  • Heat created from burning brush and undergrowth can ignite fuel containers that are likely to be stored in the garden (e.g. oil tanks and gas cylinders).
  • A cleared zone around a property makes it much easier, quicker and safer for firefighters to intervene. It also poses less risk to the firefighters if a property has been cleared.

2. It’s coming up to festival season in many parts of the world, where fireworks are an integral part of the celebrations. Never let fireworks off in an area that is surrounded by buildings with flammable roofs or in an area surrounded by dry plant growth or among fir trees which contain and deposit flammable sap.

3. If you have an open fire in the home, practice safe ash disposal. Empty the ash into a metal container and leave it in that container until it is completely cold.

4. New buildings should, wherever possible, be constructed from flame-resistant materials.

5. Do not store large amounts of fuel (oil, gas, coal, logs, tinder) close to your property, particularly if your property is left unattended for long periods.

6. If you live in an area that is prone to forest fire, keep suitable firefighting equipment in a safe place where the whole family can access it, such as a fire blanket, a bucket of sand, a bucket for filling with water and a fire extinguisher, but never fight a fire that is out of control. Call the emergency number and evacuate the area.

A villa in Portugal surrounded by forest fire

7. It’s coming up to the time of year when many people camp out or have barbecues. Think carefully about the terrain where you are considering lighting either, and check first that it’s legal to do so. Make sure it is a level spot that is open and away from trees, dense dry grass, and over-hanging branches. Make sure the BBQ or campfire can’t spread to other areas by clearing a two-metre circle of bare ground around the campfire or cooking area. Keep a bucket of water and shovel close to the BBQ or campfire and never leave either unattended at any time.

8. Familiarise yourself with your local regulations. In France, for example, owners of property in wooded and forest areas must clear the undergrowth to a minimum of 50 metres from their house – and even 100 metres if requested by the town hall (mairie). This clearing must be done at the property owner’s expense by the 1 June; however, by law you have until the 1 July. If you have a neighbour within the 50 metres radius who has not cleared undergrowth, you may appeal to the mairie to take action. It is your house that is being protected.

If the clearing is not carried out, property owners could be fined at least €135 – the mairie has police powers to carry out the law. For those who refuse or neglect to clear the area around their property, the Mairie will undertake the work and the property owner will be prosecuted and liable for all costs (article L 322.9.2 du code forestier).

To find out more about your obligations in France and how to clear brush (débroussailler) effectively visit Prevention Incendie (in French but with clear illustrations).