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current fire danger and burning permit restrictions.
about what to recycle or compost.
Contact information
For more information about burning permits, contact:
Catherine Koele
Forest fire prevention specialist
715-356-5211 x208

Debris burning and burn barrels

Debris burning is the number one cause of fires in Wisconsin. Using burn barrels is an unhealthy (and sometimes illegal) method of garbage disposal. If you choose to burn debris or use a burn barrel, follow the guidelines below.

Debris burning

Debris burning

Outdoor burning in Wisconsin is regulated! Check the forest fire protection pages for specific burning regulation information.

In most areas of the state a written permit is needed from the DNR, local fire warden or Township official prior to any out door burning. If there is doubt, ask your local DNR fire control or city or town officials what the burning regulations are. In most debris burning caused fires, the responsible party was burning outside the restrictions on the burning permit. Burning permits are typically written for evening hours when there is less likelihood of your debris fire escaping control (i.e., temperatures drop, humidity increases and winds lessen).

What is illegal to burn

It is illegal to burn asphalt, garbage, metal, petroleum products, plastics, rubber amd painted or treated wood. These materials release toxic pollutants into the air and are recognized as a significant health risk and public nuisance. Burning recyclable paper or cardboard is also prohibited.

Before burning, consider other more environmentally friendly options like composting and recycling. Burning also has health concerns for both you and your neighbors who have to live with the smoke from your debris burning. Refer to the DNR for more information on the health concerns related to debris burning.

However, if burning is your only option, follow these guidelines to ensure your debris fire does not escape and become a fire.

Debris pile guidelines
  1. Get a permit and follow the restrictions on the permit.
  2. Burning without a permit is a civil forfeiture and you are liable for minimum fine of $138.20.
  3. You must be present while your pile is burning. If not, you are in violation of your permit.
  4. Do not place your debris pile under conifer trees or within 25 feet of any structure.
  5. Have fire-fighting tools on site (garden hose, shovel or rake).
  6. Do not burn if it is windy.
  7. Clear an area down to mineral soil around your debris pile to create a "fire break".
  8. Once the objective of your burn is completed, be sure to "mop-up" the ashes with water and stirring. Often wildfires are started from "holdover" debris piles that were not properly extinguished, days or even weeks after they were burned. Failure to extinguish can also be a civil forfeiture with a minimum fine of $138.20.

Burn barrels

Burn barrels

The Department of Natural Resources strongly discourages individual property owners from using burn barrels to dispose of household garbage, and prohibits commercial and government facilities from using burn barrels. Read about the health and environmental effects of open burning.

Burn barrel guidelines

Permits are required for burn barrels. Typically, burning barrel permits are good for after 6 p.m. for the remainder of the calendar year. In some locations, burning is prohibited on Sundays and holidays. CAUTION: Only dry, nonrecyclable paper or cardboard and untreated or non-painted wood products can be burned in a barrel.

Follow the same general guidelines for burning barrels as for debris piles. The two most common problems with burn barrels causing wildfires is the lack of a lid and a barrel that is in such poor condition that burning materials fall out of the sides.

How to safely set up a burn barrel

If you choose to use a burn barrel, follow these safety guidelines.

  • Clear ground down to mineral soil at least 10 feet on each side of barrel.
  • Mount barrel 6-10 inches off the ground on metal legs or cement blocks.
  • Back the bottom vents with half inch mesh, or punch holes no greater than one half inch on sides of barrel to provide an air supply for hotter, cleaner burning.
  • Cover barrel with hardware cloth or lid with holes that are no greater than one half-inch.
Safe construction of a burn barrel
Last revised: Thursday January 29 2015