Every year, fires destroy property and devastate lives. In 2013 alone, fires claimed the lives of 76 Ontario residents. The majority of these fatalities occurred in homes and apartments throughout the province.

As tragic as these numbers are, they don’t account for the additional damages to property and belongings, nor do they quantify the emotional devastation in the lives of fire victims.

Now that the holidays are past, it’s time to renew fire safety goals for 2015. Here are a few tips to help you guard against fire damage—or recover if the unthinkable happens.


Most people understand that smoke is even more deadly than fire itself. It’s surprising, then, that so few homeowners really know if they have working smoke alarms in the house.

When a fire starts, smoke moves directly toward the ceiling. It’s common sense, then, to install your smoke alarms on the ceiling or as high up on the wall as possible. Once smoke enters a small chamber in the alarm, it interrupts an infrared light beam that normally projects onto a photocell detector. This interruption triggers a loud alarm that warns anyone nearby about the smoke.

Your home also needs one or two working carbon monoxide detectors. Even if there’s no smoke, a CO detector will alert you to the presence of this deadly colourless, odourless gas. CO detectors work best close to sleeping areas, and are generally plugged into outlets near the floor.

Test your alarms several times a year. Once a month is even better. Change the batteries if you depress the test button and get no response. In addition, if your alarms are over 10 years old, replace them. You should have at least one alarm on each level of your home.


Many homeowners enjoy using candles, space heaters, or fireplaces during the long winter months. However, remember that it only takes one moment of neglect to start a fire. Commit to these precautionary tips now:

  • Use flameless candles instead of traditional versions.
  • Don’t overload electrical circuits.
  • Always use surge protectors for high-powered electronic devices.
  • Never block vents with furniture or flammable items.
  • Use caution in the kitchen, particularly when cooking over an open flame.
  • Supervise children if they help prepare meals. Keep all pan handles away from the edge of the stove where they may tip over.
  • Keep working fire extinguishers nearby (particularly in flammable zones like the kitchen or garage).
  • Replace furnace filters and clean out dryer lint regularly.
  • Have an escape plan. Invest in fire ladders for high windows.
  • Keep your wood-burning stoves and fireplaces clean and in good condition.
  • If you use a space heater, make sure it shuts off automatically if tipped on its side.


In the end, fires can happen despite your best preparations. If you’ve lost your home and possessions because of a fire, you’ll need to meet with an insurance adjuster to start your claim.

Because any insurance claim is time sensitive, especially after a total loss, you may need to contact a lawyer to help you sort out the complexities. Your lawyer will take over the most difficult tasks while you recover physically and emotionally from the fire. Here are a few tips to keep in mind during the process:

  1. Your lawyer can help you ask for an insurance advance to cover immediate needs.
  2. As you recover from the initial shock, you’ll need to make a list of your lost possessions. Have each family member make a list as soon as possible.
  3. If you or a family member was injured as a result of the fire, your lawyer will document your injuries and medical treatments.
  4. If you suspect arson played a role in the fire, your legal team will follow up with the police report and any subsequent investigations.
  5. If only one portion of the home is damaged, you’ll need to secure the area from further damage while the claim is underway.
  6. Document all your repair bids, and keep receipts as you go forward.
  7. Talk to your lawyer about any concerns you have during the process.

Most of those who have lost property in a fire assume that they’re covered for the majority, if not all, of their losses. Insurance policies, however, may not cover all your needs. In many cases, insurance adjusters want to close the claim as soon as possible. This may not always be in your best interest.

Additionally, if you rent your home or apartment, you may have to deal with further complications from your home owner’s association or landlord since both may carry separate insurance policies and coverage options.

Don’t let the tragic effects of a house fire keep you from a full recovery. Do what you can to prevent fire now, and if the worst happens, ask a trusted lawyer to advocate for you and your family.