The Regional Municipality Of York

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Planned Controlled Burn at Nobleton Tract

Located at 5345 15th Sideroad in the Township of King

Burn area

York Region is planning a controlled burn of a tallgrass prairie located in the Nobleton Tract of the York Regional Forest. This follows the successful burn of the tallgrass prairie at the Bendor and Graves Tract of the York Regional Forest in March, 2018.

The red shaded areas on the map (Blocks 1-5 totalling 8 Ha) indicate the areas to be burned. The burn is scheduled to occur between November 1, 2019 and January 31, 2020 and/or March 1, 2020 - April 30, 2020. Weather and site conditions are being monitored by Regional staff to determine the ideal window of time for the burn to be conducted.

Controlled burns are carefully set and managed fires that are an important restoration tool to help maintain and protect tallgrass prairie habitat. The fire burns relatively quickly to consume dried grasses and leaves but does not harm larger trees.

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 residents close windows, doors and fire dampers as a precaution and anyone with sensitivity to smoke stay indoors at the time of the burn.

York Region worked with Tallgrass Ontario to establish this tallgrass prairie, a form of rare grassland habitat. Grasslands are endangered in Ontario and globally at risk. This rare and unique habitat is home to many species of insects and animals, particularly migratory birds and pollinators. Prairies are a part of Ontario’s natural and cultural heritage.


Learn more about tallgrass prairies and controlled burns





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 November 1, 2019 to January 31, 2020 and/or March 1, 2020 - April 30, 2020. Once ideal weather conditions are achieved for a safe and controlled burn, the public will be notified 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 Nobleton Tract of the York Regional Forest. See map of area to be burned above.

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.

What precautions are in place to ensure that the burn remains ‘controlled’?

Ignition will only take place under the prescribed site and weather conditions to ensure the wind speed and direction are favourable for the operation.

Staff have mowed the perimeters of each of the burn locations . These mowed areas (burn breaks) are about two tractor-widths wide, and will be pre-wetted before ignition using ATV sprayers with mounted water tanks.

During the burn, the Burn Boss ignites and controls the pattern of the fire to ensure fire lines are “burning into the black” meaning the fire is usually burning towards areas already burned so there is no more fuel and the fire self-extinguishes.

The fire is constantly monitored by a team of staff with designated monitoring posts and everyone is in constant radio contact with one another. Multiple ATV units are outfitted with water tanks and sprayers, as well over 1,000 feet of fire hose connected to pumps and water sources will be on site.  Staff from the local Fire Department will also be present during 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 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 will the burn take?

The burn will take anywhere from one to two hours to complete but timing depends on the site and weather conditions. The site is being burned in five separate compartments (burn blocks). Generally, low complexity burns such as grass fires like this prairie take less than an hour to complete per burn block.

Who has been notified?

The Regional Municipality of York has notified all neighbouring property owners. Regional employees have also advised the Township of King, City of Vaughan and Town of Caledon staff, Mayors and Councilors. York Regional Police as well as the King Township Fire and Emergency Services, Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry are some of the other organizations that have been alerted.

Why are tallgrass prairie and oak savanna important?

It is estimated that only one 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.

Nobleton Tract contains approximately 15 hectares of created prairie. This site is located within the historical range of grasslands that once covered much of southern Ontario. 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 human 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?

Wildlife 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.

Staff have chosen windows of time where the site will have the least activity in terms of wildlife using the site. This includes respecting the breeding bird window for this area of the province. Should the burn window encroach into the breeding bird window, a biologist will conduct a breeding bird and nest survey prior to burn commencement. Should any nests be discovered, the area surrounding the nests will not be burned.  

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.

On the day of the burn, staff will conduct a sweep of the prairie to deter 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 tallgrass prairies in Ontario visit tallgrassontario.org


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