This archived article is from April 2006. Although every effort has been made to make sure the information presented is accurate, please note that it may contain information that is out-of-date.

A raging wildfire can start with a carelessly discarded cigarette or hot embers from a campfire. As more homes are built near wooded areas, and people flock to enjoy Canada’s parks and forests, wildfires remain a major problem.

Public agencies in Canada spend over $400 million a year to fight forest fires. In 2005, there were 7,438 reported wildfires, and more than 1.7 million hectares were consumed. Unfortunately, while this was lower than previous years, the past 10 years do not show a downward trend. Over 1,500 professional firefighters were moved between provinces and territories to help other jurisdictions fight wildfires. June, July and August are the worst months for wildfires.

Lightning causes about one-third of forest fires, accounting for 85 percent of the area burned. These fires are not always bad — they can be nature’s way of regenerating the forest. Controlled burns reduce unnecessary damage. However, unplanned, uncontrolled wildfires can needlessly destroy wilderness, property, and lives. Human activity leads to two-thirds of all forest fires.

Most wildfires are highly preventable. Campfires and barbecues require safety precautions. Smoking poses a huge threat — never light up in or near a wooded area. Fire hazard warnings are serious business, so observe them strictly. Very dry, windy weather may force a park to close.

If you live in a forested area, the risk of a severe fire is ever-present. Build with fire-resistant materials, clear vegetation from around the home, and take measures to reduce foreseeable risks. Working smoke alarms are a must whether it’s a summer cottage, a motor home, or an all-year residence. Always be well prepared, bags packed, for a quick evacuation.

When a wildfire hits a community, the residents can be evacuated and loss of life minimized. However, businesses destroyed by fire may never open again. Economic loss figures from fires do not take into account that when a major operation burns down, jobs disappear. Lack of employment may very well lead to the death of the community.

All it takes is a smoldering cigarette or campfire....