NOTICE: March 15, 2021 - Urban Forestry will not undertake a prescribed burn in High Park and South Humber Park in 2021. Instead, efforts will be focused on working to complete long term planning, and evaluating progress in habitats being managed by fire to refine site specific goals and objectives. Please refer to the Public Notice for more information.


Park availability
Some areas of the park will be restricted to the public and some park roads will be closed.

Sensitivity to smoke
Every precaution is taken to limit the spread of smoke. However if you are sensitive, it is best to avoid the park during the burn.

Prescribed burn or controlled burns
A 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 prescribed burn is designed to mimic the natural fires that once occurred in prairie and savannah ecosystems.

Fire-dependant ecosystems, such as Toronto's rare Black Oak savannah, 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 Urban Forestry's long-term management plan to restore and protect Toronto's rare Black Oak woodlands and savannahs.

Black Oak Savannah importance
The black oak savannah habitat is extremely rare. It is estimated that only 1% of the original (pre-settlement) cover of prairie and oak savannah ecosystems remain in Ontario.

In Toronto, black oak savannah remnants can be found in South Humber Park, Lambton Park and High Park. High Park contains approximately 23 hectares of fragmented black oak savannah and is the most significant area of remnant prairie and savannah plant communities in the Toronto region. High Park has a healthy population of uncommon and rare savannah plants. This was recognized by the Province of Ontario when it was designated an Area of Natural and Scientific Interest (ANSI) in 1989. South Humber Park, Lambton Park and High Park are all classified as Environmentally Significant Areas (ESA).

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

Scheduling of prescribed burns
The Fire Boss visits the site 6 months prior to the burn to assess the area and review numerous factors, including the type of fuel on site (leaves, twigs, and stems), topography, proximity to park buildings and private property. After preparing the burn plan and reviewing it with City staff, the Fire Boss then begins a detailed study of weather conditions. City staff monitor rainfall daily and report this to the Fire Boss who will determine when the site is ready. The Fire Boss makes this decision by assessing the dryness of the site as well as forecasting the expected temperatures, humidity levels and wind patterns. From this information, the Fire Boss sets the burn date.

Since weather is difficult to predict the certainty, the time of the burn is set within 48 hours of the selected day in spring. On the day the burn, the Fire Boss has determined the appropriate time to set the fire so that it will remain under control, progress across the site at a 'walking pace', and so that it will give the desired effect of killing or setting back undesirable plants.

Safety
Yes. Sections of the park will be closed to protect park 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. If people are sensitive to smoke or poison ivy, they are advised to take precautions such as closing windows and doors of nearby homes and not entering the park during the burn.

The burn will temporarily produce large amounts of smoke in the park and surrounding community. Under ideal weather conditions, the smoke from the prescribed burn will rise and will not affect park visitors or surrounding neighbourhoods. It is possible however that weather conditions could change and some smoke will linger in the park. It is recommended that anyone with sensitivity to smoke or poison ivy stay away from the park during the burn and if they live in the nearby community, that they close all doors and windows.

Success of the burn
The success of the burn is determined by Forestry staff trained in ecosystem management. 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.

Black oaks
Many of the oak trees in the city are reaching maturity. In 1995, an evaluation of the oaks in High Park determined that more than half the oaks would likely die before 2025. In actuality, the oaks are dying even faster than predicted. This is due to several key factors; age, successive years of drought, fungal disease, and stress caused by insect infestation.

Wildlife impact
Prescribed burns are scheduled at a time of year outside of nesting periods and before hibernating animals emerge. Burn sites are intentionally planned to be small and patchy to allow for wildlife and insect refuge areas. Large cavity wildlife trees are protected from burning by creating a fire break at the base.

For more information there are several Forest Health Fact Sheets on Oak health available on the City of Toronto website.

Get involved in the restoration of High Park
There are several groups that assist Urban Forestry with the restoration of High Park. For more information on getting involved visit www.highparknature.org or www.highpark.org.

The City of Toronto (Urban Forestry) has hired a Fire Boss who is trained and certified by the Ministry of Natural Resources. The Fire Boss and his crew are in charge of the technical aspects of setting and controlling the fire.

For more information about City of Toronto's Prescribed Burn and Urban Forestry Management program, visit the City of Toronto website.