Know before you burn
The DNR's air quality and waste management rules generally prohibit open burning, with some limited exceptions. The tabs below provide information about the types of burning that may be allowed under state regulations. You can also use the "Can I burn" tool, which is a set of guided questions to help you understand burning requirements or contact DNR staff.
Even if burning is allowed, DNR approval or licensing may be required. For specific information on the type of approval your proposed burn may need, please refer to the material tabs below.
For all types of allowed burns, including those requiring DNR approval for air protection or waste management, wildfire prevention must also be considered. For burns outside of incorporated cities or villages, you will need to use this map to determine if your proposed burn is in a location that requires a burn permit.
Keep in mind that DNR requirements represent the minimum open burning regulations. Check with your local government or fire authority to determine whether additional requirements apply.
Burning trash and yard waste
State regulations allow individual households to burn small amounts of dry, household rubbish (which includes only unrecyclable paper and cardboard, natural fibers, clean, untreated wood and similar materials) and small quantities of dry leaves and plant clippings unless prohibited by local ordinance. This allowance does not apply to commercial and government entities.
Burning household rubbish and yard waste is allowed when both of the following are met:
- The rubbish and yard waste was created by normal household activities; and
- The rubbish and yard waste are burned on the individual household's property (not transported to another property and burned).
Demolition and in-home business operations, including farm and landscaping operations, are not considered normal household activities.
Keep in mind that breathing the smoke from debris burning is not healthy for you or your neighbors. Burning rubbish and yard waste is discouraged because of the air pollution it causes and because of the benefits of alternative disposal options. When burning approved materials, follow DNR's safety tips to reduce the risk of wildfire.
The DNR's air quality and waste management rules prohibit burning any of the following materials under any condition:
- furniture and mattresses;
- oily substances, such as oily or greasy rags and oil filters;
- wood that has been painted, treated, laminated or glued;
- plastics of any kind, including bottles, bags, film and agricultural plastics;
- shingles and tar paper;
- tires and other rubber products;
- vinyl siding;
- construction and demolition materials; and
- barn boards with any paint remnants or whitewash.
Burning garbage is prohibited.
Garbage has changed. Today's garbage contains plastics, dyes and other chemicals that release hazardous toxins when burned. Many of these materials were not around several decades ago.
Burning garbage can release pollutants that can cause many health problems, especially for populations that are sensitive to smoke and air pollution, including children, older adults and anyone with asthma or trouble breathing.
There are many alternatives to burning garbage, including recycling, composting, disposing of garbage in a landfill and donating or repurposing items.
Information for commercial and government entities
Wisconsin's recycling laws prohibit businesses and municipalities from burning yard or landscape waste, rubbish and trash except for waste to energy facilities. In addition, commercial and government entities generally cannot burn clean wood waste, including brush, unless these entities have a woodburning facility license. See land clearing and wood waste disposal for information about some limited exceptions. Burning any other material is prohibited in all cases.
Land clearing and disposal of wood, trees and brush
State regulations permit open burning for certain activities involving land clearing or disposal of wood, trees and brush, as described below. This includes clearing or maintaining rights-of-ways, burning for agricultural activities, other land clearing operations, natural disasters, one time burning of wood and licensed woodburning facilities.
Clearing or maintaining rights-of-ways
Outside of Kenosha, Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Racine, Walworth, Washington and Waukesha counties, state regulations allow tree trunks, limbs and stumps to be burned for the purpose of clearing and maintaining rights-of-way. Brush less than 6 inches thick may only be burned if it is an invasive species. Refer to this list of invasive land plants in Wisconsin. All wood waste must be burned on the property from which it originated. Contact the Air Program to determine whether the burning methods are approvable.
In Kenosha, Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Racine, Walworth, Washington and Waukesha counties, burning of tree trunks, limbs, stumps and brush from invasive species can only be burned using burning methods that are approved by the DNR’s Air Program. Contact the Air Program to learn about approved burning methods.
Burning as part of agricultural activities
State regulations allow brush less than 6 inches thick and weeds to be burned as part of agricultural or silvicultural activities only if the plants or trees are invasive species. Refer to this list of invasive land plants in Wisconsin. All wood waste must be burned on the property from which it originated.
Tree trunks, limbs and stumps may also be burned as part of agricultural or silvicultural activities using burning methods that are approved by the DNR's Air Program. All wood waste must be burned on the property from which it originated. Contact the Air Program to learn about approved burning methods.
Other land clearing operations
State regulations allow tree trunks, limbs and stumps to be burned for the purpose of clearing land, as long as the burning methods are approved by the DNR's Air Program. Contact the Air Program to learn about approved burning methods.
Brush less than 6 inches thick may only be burned if is an invasive species. Refer to this list of invasive land plants in Wisconsin. All wood waste must be burned on the property from which it originated.
Natural disasters and other emergencies
In emergency situations, such as natural disasters, brush less than 6 inches thick may be burned with approval from the DNR's Waste & Materials Management Program and using methods approved by the DNR's Air Program. Contact a DNR waste management specialist for your county and the Air Program to discuss the approval of the burn and approved burning methods.
One-time burning of wood, trees and brush
State regulations allow one-time burning of dry, unpainted and untreated wood, tree trunks, limbs and stumps with confirmation from the Air Program that the burn uses approved methods and complies with state air management rules. Contact the Air Program to learn about approved burning methods.
Brush less than 6 inches thick may only be burned if it is an invasive species. Refer to this list of invasive land plants in Wisconsin.
Woodburning facility license
Businesses and municipalities may burn clean wood waste or brush from invasive species after obtaining a license from DNR's Waste & Materials Management Program to operate as a woodburning facility (per NR 502.11, Wis. Adm. Code). The license will include location, operation and design criteria that establish allowable burning conditions and determine the quantity of material that may be burned. For more information on requirements for a license, please contact a DNR waste management specialist for your county.
Demolition of structures
Burning to demolish a structure (such as a barn or a chicken coop) or to dispose of wood waste from a downed structure is a practice not encouraged by the department due to the health and safety risks associated with burning. For alternatives to burning, refer to this information on properly disposing of materials after demolition.
In order to burn as a means of demolition, the requirements listed in the sections below must be followed.
Only clean wood can be burned for demolition purposes. Clean wood is wood that is not and has never been painted, treated (finished, whitewashed, stained, chemically preserved), glued or dyed. Clean wood does not include structures or structural materials that have most of the paint weathered away, as this wood still has traces of paint, making it unacceptable to burn.
Burning structures that contain any materials besides clean wood is not allowed unless the burn is for a fire department training exercise.
Approval by the department is needed for a one-time burn of a structure or structural materials composed only of acceptable materials (clean wood that has not been painted or treated). Contact the Air Program to discuss the approval of a burn.
Burning for demolition purposes can only be done as a one-time burn, and cannot be used as a means of recurring demolition.
The burning and/or demolition of all structures used for business purposes, including commercial farming, and some non-business structures are subject to asbestos notification, inspection and abatement (removal) requirements. See Asbestos removal and notification for more information on those requirements.
Asbestos inspection, abatement and notification are not required for residential structures (such as a chicken coop in a residential yard), as long as the structure is not part of a residential cooperative or nonresidential structure. However, asbestos inspection and abatement are highly recommended.
Ash from a burned structure is a solid waste and must be disposed of through a regular trash collection service or brought to a landfill.
Fire department training structure burns
State regulations allow fire departments to burn structures for staff or equipment training purposes. If you are interested in demolishing a structure for a fire department training burn, complete the following steps.
- If the burning includes a building, submit a demolition notification to the DNR Asbestos Removal and Notification Program.
- Remove asphalt shingles and asphalt and plastic siding unless these materials are considered necessary to the fire department practice.
- Remove all material containing asbestos, so as to be in compliance with ch. NR 447, Wis. Adm. Code. See Asbestos removal and notification for more information and staff contacts.
- Obtain any necessary burning permits. If the structure is in an incorporated city or village, check local ordinances and requirements.
- Dispose of ash from the burned structure, when cool, in a landfill approved by the department. The department may approve alternate ash disposal sites if groundwater and surface water quality will not be affected. Contact the DNR waste management specialist for your county to discuss the approval of alternative ash disposal methods.
State regulations allow controlled burns for forest or wildlife habitat management or wildfire control, also referred to as prescribed burns.
If you are undertaking a prescribed burn, always be mindful of changing weather conditions and only burn within the specified burn times and according to the size limitations indicated by the daily restrictions or on the burn permit.
Upon DNR inspection, a special burning permit may be issued for burning outside the restricted burn times for prescribed fires exceeding the maximum size limit. Contact your local DNR Ranger Station or fire control dispatch office for more information.
A prescribed burn plan is a written document that addresses a number of important factors related to a burn. A burn plan is crucial to a successful and safe burn, as it provides all necessary information in one place, should the Burn Boss/landowner need it immediately during the burn.
The plan should clearly describe the existing vegetation on the burn area and the desired future condition of the area. The plan should also provide details on the specific weather conditions and ignition patterns required to achieve the desired fire behavior. Any issues relating to adjacent lands, communities, structures, roads, smoke management and traffic control needs should be addressed. Finally, the plan should identify the people and equipment needed to safely complete the burn and should include a detailed contingency plan (with contact information) for reacting to any emergency. Refer to burn plan information from the Wisconsin Prescribed Fire Council for suggestions on what information to include in a burn plan.
For more information on weather and fuel conditions, benefits of prescribed fire and additional resources to make your burn as safe and effective as possible, visit Prescribed fire.
Campfires and bonfires
State regulations allow fires for cooking, ceremonies or recreation, except when Emergency Burning Restrictions are in effect. A DNR wildfire prevention burning permit is not needed for these types of fires. Some local ordinances may be more restrictive, so make sure to check with your local officials on local fire regulations.
Check the daily fire danger before ignition and never leave a fire unattended. You may be held responsible for fire suppression costs and any damages associated with an improperly controlled fire.
Burning on frozen waterways
Having a fire for warming or cooking purposes on the frozen surface of a lake or river is allowed as long as the materials being burned do not violate Wisconsin open burning requirements and as long as the burn is not in violation of any local ordinances. After the burn, it is important to remove any debris, ash or unburned materials left behind to avoid violation of the littering law. It is recommended to use a portable fire pit for easy clean-up and removal.