Wisconsin burning permits

Forest fire

Prevent wildfires by burning responsibly, photo by Wisconsin DNR.

Burning permits are required by the Wisconsin DNR in many parts of the state to conduct legal and responsible burning in the outdoors. Burning permits are free and easy to obtain. They encourage the public to burn safely and are proven to be effective in protecting lives, property and natural resources from the damages of wildfires.

Simple steps to safe burning

Follow the steps below to conduct legal and responsible burning in the outdoors.

  1. Get a permit: Obtain a free permit online or call 1-888-WIS-BURN (947-2876). You can also visit an   emergency fire warden   or   DNR office   to get a permit in-person.

Get a free   burning permit   online.

  1. Check before burning: On the day you wish to burn after 11 a.m., check the daily burning restrictions or call the hotline 1-888-WIS-BURN (947-2876) and select the county (county codes for burning permit hotline) where you plan to burn. Fire conditions change quickly, so it's important to check each day you burn to find out if burning is allowed, burning hours and any size limitations.

Check the daily   burning restrictions.

  1. Follow the rules: Follow the daily burning restrictions and   fire safety recommendations   [PDF]   listed on the permit. Make sure to have all the necessary tools to keep your fire contained. Lastly, make sure your fire is completely out before leaving.

Legal versus illegal burning Information for property owners and renters

Materials you are allowed to burn outdoors

Contact your local fire authority before you start burning any materials to find out if you need to obtain a   burning permit.

  • Brush, leaves and other vegetative yard debris   - Where not prohibited by local ordinance, leaf burning and burning of plant clippings and brush is allowed anywhere in the state, as long as weather conditions do not pose a fire hazard. However, leaf burning is discouraged because of the air pollution it causes and because of the benefits of composting and mulching with these materials.
  • Clean, unrecyclable paper and clean, unpainted, untreated wood   - Individual homeowners may burn   small quantities   of of these materials. Local ordinance can override this allowance. This is especially true in populated areas such as southeastern Wisconsin, where most municipalities have banned or severely limited open burning. Paper and cardboard can now be recycled in all communities, and recycling is the best disposal method for these items.

Materials that MAY NOT be burned by individual property owners

The DNR's administrative rules of the Air Management and Waste & Materials Management Programs prohibit anyone from burning   any   of the following materials under   any   conditions:

  • garbage;
  • carpet;
  • electronics;
  • foam;
  • furniture;
  • metal;
  • oily substances, such as oily or greasy rags, oil filters, etc.;
  • painted/stained/treated wood;
  • plastics of any kind, including plastic bottles and plastic bags;
  • shingles and tar paper;
  • tires and other rubber products;
  • vinyl (i.e., siding);
  • wire;
  • structures of any kind (homes, barns, sheds, etc.); and
  • agricultural plastics/plastic film.

These prohibitions apply to individual property owners (or renters) as well as to business and industry.

What you can do instead of burning household and yard wastes

Instead of burning, the DNR recommends the following alternatives.

  • Reduce   usage - buy in bulk or larger quantities and demand less packaging on the products you buy.
  • Reuse   items - find someone else who can use it, have a yard sale or donate it to a resale organization.
  • Recycle   newspaper, office paper, cardboard, corrugated cardboard, magazines, aluminum, metal and acceptable plastics.
  • Compost   leaves and plant clippings. Consult   DNR staff, University of Wisconsin-Extension and your local government to find out whether local ordinances allow you to compost raw vegetables, bread, egg shells and coffee grounds.
  • Chip   brush and clean wood to make mulch or decorative chips, or use it as heating fuel in wood stoves or boilers.
  • Dispose   of allowable waste materials at a licensed landfill. For more information about what items may be disposed of at licensed landfills, contact the Recycling Program at your DNR   regional office or service center.

Wildfire causes Campfires

Campfire at a campsite surrounded by rocks being blown by the wind.

The first step in campfire safety is to understand the difference between a campfire and a fire to dispose of debris. Campfires, solely for warming or cooking purposes, are smaller in size and comprised of clean and dry wood, contained within a designated fire ring or surrounded by rocks. Campfires are allowed anytime, except when Emergency Burning Restrictions are in effect. Burning in a fire ring with the intent to eliminate debris is not a campfire and does require a burning permit in DNR protection areas.

No matter what type of outdoor fire you have, check the   daily burning restrictions   for your area before ignition and never leave a fire unattended. Remember, you may be held responsible for all suppression costs and potentially any damages associated.

Campfire safety

Learn how to build a campfire, maintain it while burning and extinguish when finished.

  • Build

    • Select a level, open location away from prevailing winds and fuels such as logs, brush, leaves and needles.
    • Have easy access to water.
    • The space above your fire must be free from any overhanging branches.
    • Scrape away the surface area right down to mineral soil or non-combustible material.
    • If not in a designated fire ring or pit, scoop a depression in the center of the cleared area and surround with rocks.
    • The fire should be built no larger than necessary for cooking or personal warmth.
    • Now comes the fun part—choosing between   three different kinds of campfires   [PDF] .
  • Burn

    • Keep a shovel and water source nearby at all times.
    • Never leave your campfire unattended.
    • Keep an eye on the weather and extinguish if conditions become less favorable.
    • Never leave children around a fire unattended.
    • If your fire escapes, dial 911 immediately.
  • Extinguish

    • Use the "drown, stir and feel" method:
      • 1) Drown the fire with water.
      • 2) Stir around the fire area with a shovel to wet any remaining embers.
      • 3) Feel the area with the back of your hand to ensure nothing is still smoldering.
    • Stir the ashes and turn the wood with a shovel to uncover hot coals. This will cool the fire faster and allow the water to soak in better.
    • Move some dirt onto the fire site and mix thoroughly to fully smother it.
    • Drown your fire with water as soon as possible after use; the ground will cool faster and the hazard to surrounding trees or shrubs will be greatly reduced.
    • If you circled your campfire with rocks, make sure the rocks are not hiding any hot coals.
    • Drown it again! Make sure the fire is completely cold before leaving the site.

Safety tip:   The majority of campfire-caused wildfires in Wisconsin are a result of the person responsible leaving the fire before it was properly extinguished. Never cover your campfire with dirt and walk away from it. This creates a "Dutch oven" and coals may remain hot for days or weeks until conditions are ripe for the fire to escape.

Wildfire causes Fireworks

Bottle rocket being lit and throwing sparks into the nearby grass causing a fire.

Most wildfires caused by fireworks occur during the weeks leading up to and after the July 4th holiday or under extended drought conditions. Wildfires can start anytime the ground is not completely snow-covered, but it is important to be especially cautious with fireworks and all fires when the fire danger is elevated and fires spread quickly and burn more intensely, especially in the spring, and during summer drought periods.

Use caution

The reality is, all fireworks have the potential to cause a wildfire. While exploding and airborne fireworks are the most hazardous, even sparklers, fountains and smoke bombs can cause an ignition.

The safest way to enjoy fireworks is to attend a public fireworks show put on by professionals instead of setting off your own. Always keep a safe distance and remember to never allow young children to use fireworks.

Before using fire of any kind in the outdoors:

  • know the daily fire danger;
  • obtain the proper permits;
  • choose a safe area free of flammable materials;
  • have water and tools nearby; and
  • make certain fireworks are completely out and cold before leaving.

Know the consequences

Enforcement of fireworks violations rests with local law enforcement agencies. DNR officers will enforce fireworks laws when the user has caused a wildfire or poses a direct threat of fire to the wildland. Anyone found responsible for causing a wildfire is liable for all suppression costs and may be liable for up to twice the cost of damages. In addition, the DNR prohibits the use of all fireworks on state lands including state parks, state forests and state owned public hunting and fishing properties.

Obtain permits

In Wisconsin, fireworks are regulated and it is best to check with local officials before purchasing and lighting them. Depending on the specific type of fireworks, a permit may be required.

In very general terms, if it "goes up" or "blows up" it most likely requires a permit. A user's permit to possess and use fireworks can be obtained from the mayor of the city, president of the village or chairperson of the town or their designee based on the jurisdiction in which the possession or use is to occur.