How to burn grass and woody debris safely
Learn how to burn grass and woody debris safely while having an outdoor fire in Ontario.
On this page Skip this page navigation
Outdoor fires and the law
In Ontario, outdoor fires are regulated under the Forest Fires Prevention Act. If you cause a forest fire, you could be held responsible for the costs of putting out the fire and for any property damage in addition to any fines that accompany an infraction.
By law, the only material that can be burnt without a fire permit is:
- discarded wood by-products
- live in the Ontario fire region, including Northwestern, Northeastern or North-Central Ontario, the following important safe burning tips are the law
- live in a municipality, check with the local municipal office or fire department to find out if you need municipal permission to burn or if you must take your woody debris to an approved disposal site
- live in a municipality that does not have special burning rules, follow the instructions below for safe burning
Read more about outdoor fire rules and permits.
You can find a complete set of rules related to outdoor fires in:
Safe outdoor burning tips
Compost rather than burn
We recommend that you compost or chip your yard and wood waste rather than burn.
Composting is a process of recycling organic waste, such a leaf litter and grass, by placing materials in a bin and allowing them to decompose, creating a soil that benefits the growth of plants.
If composting or chipping is not a feasible option, consider taking the yard and wood waste to a landfill site.
If you must burn, know the rules for having outdoor fires and follow these safe burning tips.
Choose a safe time
- Burn during the coolest, dampest and calmest time of the day: two hours before sunset, or later.
- A fire is more likely to get out of control on a hot, dry or windy day.
- Put fires out two hours after sunrise, or earlier.
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
- Keep burning piles at least two metres from other flammable materials.
- If burning an area of grass or leaves, make sure the area is surrounded by a fire-proof boundary, such as a road, wet ditch or ploughed ground.
Stay with your fire
- If you start a fire outdoors, you must tend the fire, keep it under control, and extinguish it before leaving the site.
- A responsible adult must always be present to tend the fire, at all times, even if it is contained in an incinerator.
- Keep adequate tools and water on hand 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.
- Select a site at least five metres from anything that could catch on fire (for example, trees, overhanging branches, buildings, piles of debris).
- Clear an area two metres around the incinerator down to mineral soil.
- Use a metal barrel in good condition.
- A heavy metal mesh must be put on top of the incinerator with a mesh size of less than five millimetres to prevent the spread of burning embers.
- Either hinge the mesh top or place a rock or brick on the mesh to keep it from falling off the barrel.
- Material burns more quickly and cleanly if the incinerator has good air flow.
- Punch holes about seven centimetres above the bottom of the barrel and a few more holes slightly higher.
- Insert steel rods or pipes to support the material to be burned.
- Keep a shovel, rake and water on hand to control the fire if it begins to spread.
- Monitor any fire burning in the incinerator.
- Burn only wood, brush, leaves or discarded wood by-products — no garbage.
Put the fire out
If you start a fire, you are responsible for putting it out.
Since coals can smoulder for hours and hot embers and sparks can be blown by the wind:
- dispose of used charcoal or ashes in a pit
- soak hot coals thoroughly, stir them until they are cold to the touch