Burning Grass and Woody Debris Safely

The Risks


If you live in or near a forested area, you have a lot to lose if a forest fire starts near your cottage or home.


Each year in Ontario, dozens of rural residents and cottagers damage forest lands and lose valuable buildings to fires that could have been prevented. Nearly one third of these fires are caused by careless burning - over 200 fires per year.


Under the Forest Fires Prevention Act, the only material that can be burnt without a fire permit is grass, wood, brush or wood by-products.


Always consider chipping or composting first over burning brush or grass. If you must burn, make sure you know the rules for outdoor fires and follow safe practices.


Who Causes Fires in Ontario?


Among forest fires caused by people, an average of over 200 fires each year are caused by rural residents.


Chart showing who causes the forest fires in Ontario. From least to most are Resorts, Urban Residents, Farmers, Cottagers, then with the most are Rural Residents















The Laws and Outdoor Fires


If a forest fire results because you have used fire improperly, you could be held responsible for the costs of putting out the fire and for any property damage that occurs.


Regulations describe conditions under which outdoor fires are allowed in Ontario. If you live in a municipality, check with the local municipal office or fire department: you may be required to get municipal permission to burn or you may be required to take your woody debris to an approved disposal site. If your municipality does not have special burning rules, follow the instructions in this brochure for safe burning.


If you live in northwestern, northern, or central Ontario, the following safe burning tips are not only important, they are the law!


Choose a Safe Time


Any fire is more likely to get out of control on a hot, dry, or windy day. Burn during the coolest, dampest and calmest time of the day - two hours before sunset, or later. Make sure fires are out two hours after sunrise, or earlier. Don’t even consider burning when it’s windy.


Keep Your Fire Small


Small fires can be controlled by one person using hand tools and water. Keep your pile of wood, brush, or wood by-products to be burned less than two metres in diameter and less than two metres high. An area of grass or leaves can be burned if the area is less than one hectare (2.5 acres) and the length of the flaming edge is kept to less than 30 metres (100 feet).


Choose a Safe Site


Woody debris fires often turn into forest fires when the fire escapes by running a long the ground away from the pile or burn area. Burning piles must be at least two metres from other flammable material. If you are burning an area of grass or leaves, make sure the area is surrounded by a fire-proof boundary. Roads, ditches, or ploughed ground provide good barriers against fire spread.


Stay With Your Fire


If you start a fire outdoors, you must take all necessary steps to tend the fire, keep it under control, and extinguish it before leaving the site. A responsible person must be available to tend the fire at all times, even if it is contained in an incinerator. You must have adequate tools and water to control the fire if it begins to spread.


How to Build a Safe Incinerator


If you burn forest litter or woody debris often, build and use a good incinerator.

  1. incineratorSelect a site at least five metres from anything that could catch on fire, like trees, overhanging branches, buildings, or piles of debris. Clear an area two metres around the incinerator down to mineral soil.
  2. Use a metal barrel in good condition.
  3. A heavy metal mesh must be put on top of the incinerator. Mesh size must be less than five mm. Weight the screen with a rock or brick to stop it from falling off your incinerator. Without a mesh cover, a hot fire can spread burning sparks.
  4. Material will burn more quickly and cleanly if the incinerator has good air flow. To create this, punch holes about seven centimetres above the bottom of the barrel. Punch a few more holes slightly higher and insert steel rods or pipes to support the material to be burned.
  5. Keep a shovel, rake and water nearby.
  6. Monitor any fire burning in the incinerator.

Put That Fire Out!


Every person who starts a fire is responsible to ensure it is out. Remember, coals can smoulder for hours and hot embers and sparks can be blown by the wind, easily setting fire to dry grass or twigs. Where possible, dispose of used charcoal or ashes in a pit. Drown hot coals thoroughly, then cover them with sand or gravel.


Without a mesh cover, a hot incinerator fire can spread burning sparks.




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