Report a wildfire: If you see a wildfire in a forested area call 310-FIRE (3473)
Get a fire permit
Fire permits are required for all burning activities, except campfires, in the Forest Protection Area of Alberta during wildfire season, from March 1 to October 31.
See Get a fire permit for more information.
Brush piles and windrows are commonly used to burn woody debris from land clearing for agricultural and development purposes. Alberta Wildfire can advise you on how to construct your burn site so it meets the guidelines for safe burning practices required for your fire permit.
For more information, see Brush piles and windrows: Safe burning practices.
Prepare the site
- Brush piles and windrows must be at least 25 m from trees and bushes.
- A fireguard 15 m wide and cleared down to the mineral soil must completely surround the area.
- Windrows cannot be more than 60 m in length with a minimum 8 m break between each windrow.
- Windrows and brush piles cannot be more than 6 m wide.
- Parallel windrows must be separated by at least 15 m.
- To allow for a cleaner burn, ensure that you reduce the amount of soil and dirt in your windrows or brush piles.
- Clean burning reduces the likelihood of smoke issues and smouldering fires. Smouldering fires can last for months and emerge as a wildfire in warm, dry weather.
Safe burning practices
- Never leave your fire unattended.
- Only burn what you can control and follow the conditions of your permit.
- Have your fire permit ready to present if requested.
- Watch for sparks and burning material that may result in smaller fires.
- Larger fires can send these sparks over several kilometres, especially when burning in the wind.
- If the wind is gusting over 15 km/h or increases beyond the limit on your permit, immediately extinguish your fire.
- Have the tools and equipment listed in your permit available to put out any spot fires that may occur.
After you burn
- Spread or stir the debris to speed up extinguishing the fire.
- Re-pile unburnt debris to ensure it burns as needed.
- Walk the area and check for heat. Fire can smoulder underground only to reappear under drier conditions as a wildfire.
- Insert a metal probe into the burned area and then feel it for heat to ensure nothing is burning in the ground.
- Water down and extinguish hot spots.
- Carefully inspect the area in the days and weeks after your burn is complete.
- Extinguish any areas still burning and ensure that they are cool to the touch.
Burn barrels may be the simplest way to get rid of debris. However, they can release pollutants, create unpleasant odours and cause contamination. Using your burn barrel responsibly can help prevent wildfires and reduce the impact on the environment.
If you must use a burn barrel, burning in the late evening is safer. The cooler temperatures and calmer wind will help you maintain control of the burn. Never leave your fire unattended. Have the tools and equipment listed in your permit available to put out any spot fires that may occur.
For more information, see Burn barrels: Safe burning practices.
Prepare the site
- Cover your burn barrel with a 6 mm or smaller metal screen to reduce the risk of flying sparks and burning debris.
- Position your burn barrel on exposed soil.
- Keep the area within 3 m of the burn barrel clear of combustible materials.
- Burn barrels must be at least 30 m from all structures and trees.
Allowable burn materials
The following are permitted in burn barrels:
- brush and fallen trees
- straw, stubble, grass, weeds, leaves and tree prunings
- used power and telephone poles that do not contain preservatives
- wood or wood products not containing preservatives
- solid wood waste from tree harvesting
- solid wood waste from post and pole operations not containing wood preservatives
- cardboard and paper products
Restricted burning materials
The following are not permitted in burn barrels:
- preserved wood
- material from automobile bodies and tires
- used oil and other petroleum-based products (for example, styrofoam)
- pathological waste
- asphalt shingles
- materials prohibited by the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act
Winter burning safety
A surprising number of wildfires start in the winter. A lack of snow cover can leave brown, dry grass exposed and ready to ignite. Sparks from controlled fires like campfires, burn barrels or agricultural burning can inadvertently cause winter wildfires.
Winter burning can also cause dangerous driving conditions when smoke lingers in the air, since smoke can stay close to the ground and travel great distances on cold days. The ideal conditions for burning are typically days with average temperatures and minimal wind.
When burning during winter:
- listen to the weather forecast for snow conditions and wind predictions before you set your fire
- refrain from burning when an inversion is in place or is forecasted
- consult local municipalities and authorities on how to mitigate impacts when undertaking larger winter burning projects near communities or roads
- actively manage burn projects to reduce total burning time and smoke impacts
- burn debris in stages so that you can adapt to changing weather conditions and reduce smoke
- ensure good snow cover in the burn area (more than 15 cm)
Winter brush piles and windrows
Winter is a great time to burn brush piles, windrows and other projects. With a good amount of snow, the risk of your fire spreading is limited. You should still:
- make sure you have appropriate tools and water on hand to manage your fire
- use caution if drought conditions are high to extreme, as the fire may dig in and burn underground
- insert a metal rod into your fire to tell if it is extinguished or if it’s still burning underground; if the metal rod comes out hot or warm to the touch, you know the fire is still smouldering
- extinguish a fire by soaking it, stirring it, and soaking it again, even if you have to use heavy equipment to stir up your fire or dig down to allow water to reach the fire
Burning grass and stubble
Spring and fall burning is always a challenge for farmers. The weather conditions need to be perfect, with not too much wind or heat, and the field needs to be prepared to contain the fire from spreading too far, too fast.
- Get a fire permit and always follow the conditions when burning grass and stubble.
- Avoid burning in the heat of the day – when possible, burn in the evening after 6 pm.
- Check your local weather forecast – never burn with winds greater than 12 km/h (8 mph).
- Blade or plow a minimum of 5 m around your burn, down to mineral soil. This makes a guard to help prevent the fire from spreading.
- Break larger fields down into smaller sections, with fireguards built around each section. This results in more manageable sized fires.
- Only set fires that can be controlled by available manpower and equipment.
- Ensure that you have adequate supervision, people, equipment and water nearby.
- Always burn from the outside perimeter and against the wind.
- Never leave a burn unattended.
- After the burn is complete, continue to patrol until the fire is completely extinguished.
- Verify extinguishment by returning to the burn site to confirm nothing has reignited.
As with all burning, it’s important to get a fire permit and follow the conditions when burning piles. Pile burning is particularly tricky since it can result in a deep ground fire that lasts long after the surface burning is out.
Here are some guidelines for effective pile burning:
- When possible, burn piles when there is snow cover and frozen ground conditions.
- Never leave a burn unattended.
- Re-pile and reburn if necessary, until your pile is gone.
- Check piles for hotspots that may smoulder long after the surface burn appears to be out. Use a metal rod to probe the piles. If it feels warm to the touch, your fire is still burning.
- Check your piles in early spring to make sure they are completely extinguished. Winter burns that are not properly extinguished can smoulder underground for months and reignite as a wildfire in the spring.
See Brush piles and windrows above.