The Regional Municipality Of York


Public Notice

Notice of Controlled Burn At Bendor and Graves Tract

In the Town of East Gwillimbury

York Region staff and burn consultants are planning a controlled burn of a tallgrass prairie located in the Bendor and Graves Tract of the York Regional Forest.

Staff worked with Tallgrass Ontario to establish tallgrass prairie habitat with the intention to transition the site to an oak savanna over time.

Prairies and savanna habitats are endangered in Ontario. The habitat type is rare and unique, and so too are the species of insects and animals that use it, particularly migratory birds and pollinators. Prairies and oak savannas are a part of Ontario’s natural and cultural heritage.

bendor and graves tract controlled burn location

The red shaded area on the map (Block 1 – 6.7 Ha) indicates the area to be burned in early spring 2018. During implementation of the burn, access to the Bendor and Graves Tract will be temporarily restricted in areas surrounding the burn site. This will include the main trail, dog off-leash area and parking lot.

Controlled burns are an integral restoration tool to maintain and protect the tallgrass prairie and to encourage its transition to an oak savanna. A controlled burn is a deliberately set fire and carefully controlled to mimic a natural wildfire. The fire burns relatively quickly to consume the dried grasses and leaves but does not harm larger trees. Tallgrass prairies and oak savannas need fire to sustain themselves, and help remove weedy and less desirable plants.

Under ideal weather conditions, smoke from the controlled burn will rise without impacting surrounding properties. Changing weather conditions could lead to smoke temporarily reaching nearby residences. It is recommended that residents close windows, doors and fire dampers as a precaution and anyone with sensitivity to smoke stay indoors at the time of the burn.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a controlled (prescribed) burn?

A controlled (prescribed) burn is a deliberately set and carefully controlled fire that burns low to the ground and consumes dried leaves, small twigs and grass stems but does not harm larger trees or wildlife. A controlled burn is designed to mimic the natural fires that once occurred in prairie and savanna ecosystems.

What is the purpose of the controlled burn?

Fire-dependent ecosystems, such as tallgrass prairies and oak savannas contain prairie plants that respond positively to burning, and that grow more vigorously than they would in the absence of fire. These burns are a part of the long-term management plan to restore and enhance this rare and important ecosystem.

When is the controlled burn scheduled to occur?

The date of the controlled burn is difficult to predict in advance as it depends on very specific weather conditions. The controlled burn window is generally March through to mid-April. Once ideal weather conditions are achieved for a safe and controlled burn, the public will be notified by 24 to 48 hours before burning is set to commence. If we do not have the required weather conditions, we will not proceed with the controlled burn.

What time will the burn take place?

The burn will usually occur in the morning of the day the weather conditions cooperate. Generally, the time of the burn depends on the weather.

Where is the controlled burn scheduled to occur?

The controlled burn will take place at the Bendor and Graves Tract of the York Regional Forest. See map above. During the burn the main trail and dog off-leash area will be closed.

Who is responsible for setting and controlling the fire?

The Regional Municipality of York’s Natural Heritage and Forestry has hired a Burn Boss who is trained by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. The Burn Boss and his crew are in charge of the technical aspects of setting and controlling the fire and extinguishing the fire.

Will the Tract be closed for the burn?

The Tract will be temporarily closed, including the parking lot at the McCowan entrance (17858 McCowan Road) and the dog off-leash area.The Tract will remain open to pedestrian traffic all day but certain walking trails and the dog off-leash area will be closed during the burn to ensure public safety by keeping people away from the burn area. The controlled burn itself is quick (generally less than an hour). Once the Burn Boss has declared the site safe, the areas will be reopened for use.

Will it be safe to be in the Tract during the burn?

Yes. Sections of the Tract will be closed to protect visitors from areas being burned and to reduce the risk to visitors and their dogs. It will be safe to walk through areas of the park that are not being burned. It is recommended that anyone with sensitivity to smoke or poison ivy stay away from areas with fire smoke such as leaving the general area, closing windows and doors of nearby homes, staying indoors and not entering the Tract during the burn.

When the controlled burn is over, please stay on the trails and keep out of charred areas to protect sensitive vegetation that will re-sprout following the burn.

Will there be smoke from the burn?

The burn will temporarily produce large amounts of smoke in the Tract and surrounding area. Under ideal weather conditions, the smoke from the controlled burn will rise and will not affect Tract visitors or surrounding neighbours. It is possible however that weather conditions could change and some smoke will linger in the area.

Fire smoke is made up of a mixture of gases and very small particles that are produced when organic matter burns. Exposure to smoke may cause burning eyes, runny nose, irritated throat and sinus, and headache. Children, seniors, pregnant women, and those who have underlying medical conditions, such as heart or lung conditions, may be more sensitive to the effects of smoke.

Exposure to smoke depends on many factors including weather conditions and proximity to the source. It is recommended that anyone with sensitivity to smoke or poison ivy stay away from areas with fire smoke. If individuals experience difficulty breathing or other symptoms, they should consult their healthcare provider. Should there be any concern regarding smoke entering your home, it is recommended that you keep windows, doors and fire dampers closed as a precaution.

How long with the burn take?

The burn will take anywhere from 30 minutes to one hour to complete but timing depends on the site and weather conditions. Generally, low complexity burns such as grass fires like this prairie take less than an hour to complete.

Who has been notified?

The Regional Municipality of York has notified all neighbouring property owners. Staff have also advised the Town of East Gwillimbury, Town of Newmarket and Town of Whitchurch-Stouffville staff, Mayors and Councilors. York Regional Police as well as the Town of East Gwillimbury Emergency and Community Safety Services (Fire Department), Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry and CN Rail are just some of the other organizations that have been alerted.

Why are tallgrass prairie and oak savanna important?

It is estimated that only 1 per cent of the original (pre-settlement) cover of prairie and oak savanna ecosystems remain in Ontario.  As a result, many of the plants that grow in tallgrass prairies and oak savanna are listed as rare or endangered in Canada.
Bendor and Graves Tract contains approximately seven hectares of created prairie and the early stages of oak savanna habitat. There is evidence of historical prairie remnants in other locations of the Bendor and Graves Tract.  This habitat type is home to many species at risk such as birds like the Bobolink and Meadowlark, and can support many important pollinator species of insects including Monarch butterflies.

Why are controlled burns important for tallgrass prairies and oak savannas?

Prior to settlement, wildfires were a natural occurrence. Prairies and savannas have evolved to be fire-dependent. Controlled burns benefit native plants and animals by removing exotic plants and grasses, by restoring wildlife habitat and returning essential nutrients to the soil.

How do wildlife species survive a fire?

Most animals have adaptive behaviours that help them escape from fire. Mammals, for example, can easily out-run small ground fires or retreat to burrows or previously burned areas. Reptiles and amphibians may remain in the soil, retreat beneath logs and damp leaves, enter burrows, or escape to water. Adult birds can fly away but fires may destroy nests, eggs and fledglings. Insects can be the hardest hit from grassland fires, especially those in the larval stage.

However, most tallgrass controlled burns in southern Ontario are carried out in very early spring, a time when most reptiles and amphibians have not yet emerged from hibernation and few birds have begun to nest. Overall, most animals benefit from the new growth that follows a fire and the open type of habitat it maintains. Some animals such as quail, turkey, coyote and birds of prey will move to recently burned areas looking for food.

Staff will conduct a sweep of the prairie to scare off any wildlife prior to ignition.

How do you determine the success of the burn?

The success of the burn is determined by Forestry staff trained in ecosystem management alongside tallgrass specialists from Tallgrass Ontario, Nature Conservancy of Canada and the hired Burn Boss. Staff monitor burned areas over many years and determine the positive and negative impacts on the different plant species. The desired effect is to see greater populations of prairie plants, while at the same time seeing reduced growth and decreased populations of invasive plant species.

For more information about oak savannas and controlled burns visit

For more information about tallgrass prairies in Ontario visit

Controlled,fire,Burn,Bendor and Graves,Tract,forest,grass The Regional Municipality of York en-US Media Release

Events Calendar

  • More events