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Backyard fires and home insurance: what you need to know

July 7, 2022
3 mins
A child roasts a marshmallow over a fire pit in the backyard

Summer is prime time for campfires and roasted marshmallows. However, before starting a fire and enjoying the tasty treats cooked over one, it is essential to understand fire regulations in your area and what your home insurance will cover if something goes awry.

How do I know if my campfire is legal, and any potential damage is insurable?

To find your town or city’s fire bylaws, call your local government (town council or bylaw enforcement) or search your municipality’s website for a list of regulations. It might be under bylaws or the municipal code.

Fire restrictions can fluctuate with the weather, so it’s always important to check if there is a fire ban in your area before igniting any materials — including charcoal barbeques in some instances. Failure to comply with the fire ban can result in a hefty fine. Additionally, your home insurance policy might not cover potential damage to your home caused by the fire since it is illegal to set a fire in the area where the ban is declared.

Suppose you get a fire pit for your home. In that case, it’s important to notify your insurance company, says Anne Marie Thomas, director of consumer and industry relations at the Insurance Bureau of Canada. A fire pit may affect your insurance premium since you incur more liabilities. Omitting to mention this information to your insurance provider could be a costly mistake.

Does home insurance cover damage caused by a backyard fire?

If you fail to disclose that you have a fire pit or outdoor fireplace, your insurance policy might not cover any damages that result from a backyard fire, and you would have to pay out of pocket for costs.

“The overarching factor is to make sure that the fire pit is legal,” says Thomas. “You can’t behave illegally and expect to be compensated.”

Thomas emphasizes that each policy is different and how your insurance will compensate you if you infringe on your contract varies from case to case. She says that whenever you violate your insurance policy, you put your coverage in jeopardy. If you’re having fires illegally, a worst-case scenario is that your insurance company could void your home insurance altogether.

What happens if one of my guests gets injured while having a backyard fire?

“If you’re [having a fire] legally but someone gets burned by accident, your insurance may cover you for that,” says Thomas.

If a guest sustains injuries on your property, follow these steps:

  1. Assist the injured person and seek medical attention, if necessary.
  2. If there are witnesses, write down a detailed description of the event that caused the injury.
  3. Take photos of where the injury occurred and, if possible, the injury itself.
  4. Notify your insurance provider of the incident.

Most importantly, never admit fault. It’s best to refer the person to your insurance provider for discussions regarding liability. Proper documentation can help in your defence should you file a liability claim.

Additionally, if you are serving alcohol, you might be held responsible for your guests’ actions while intoxicated. Be mindful of this when organizing get-togethers, as your hosting duties extend beyond your home if you serve alcohol.

Do bonfires fall under the same guidelines as fire pits?

Whether or not your insurance will cover damage resulting from bonfires or burn barrels depends on your specific insurance policy and the bylaws in your area.

While the Ontario government states that you don’t need a permit for burning wood, brush and leaves as long as you follow certain guidelines, municipalities may have their own regulations. For example, while the province of Ontario allows bonfires, the City of Toronto has banned open-air burning, including bonfires, fire pits, sky lanterns, and various outdoor fireplaces — despite being available for purchase at retailers in the city.

When it comes to home insurance, Thomas emphasizes that all policies are different. Before having a bonfire or building a backyard fire pit, homeowners should ensure they follow municipal bylaws and contact their home insurance provider.

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Julia Stratton

Julia Stratton is a freelance writer living in Ottawa. When she’s not writing, you can find her curled up with a book, running, or cooking up adventurous new recipes in the kitchen.

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