How to Manage Holdover Fires

With winter on its way the risk of your burn pile starting a wildfire may be low, but holdover fires can still happen.

Holdover fires are typically organic material that lay deep in the ground under the burn pile that smolder during the winter months. This type of fire is like a sleeping giant, just waiting to take off when dry grasses are uncovered and the spring winds ignite the embers lying in wait for the perfect conditions. This type of fire burns without smoke or flames and lays smoldering underground without anyone knowing.

If you choose to do your permitted burning in the winter time, it is the safest time to do so. The ground is snow covered and ground is frozen, making the conditions better suited for such practices. If you have pre-planned your burn with your local Fire Guardian, you have avoided building the burn piles in areas of muskeg or peat moss, and built the piles tall, tight and dirt-free to ensure a cleaner burn.

Some further tips to help you avoid a potential holdover spring fire:

  • ALWAYS obtain the assistance and guidance of your local Fire Guardian and make sure you have your Fire Permit on hand and available for authorities
  • Check your burn piles frequently and have the appropriate extinguishing equipment on hand
  • Re-pile burnt piles
  • Always obtain a new Fire Permit for any new or re-piled piles before lighting
  • Before spring, go back and check those winter burn piles
  • Extinguish any hot spots, Walk the burn area, Roll the debris over to check for further hot spots
  • Probe the burned area to ensure there are no smoldering fires in the ground
  • Stir the debris and water down hot spots
  • Watch the wind conditions and continue to check burned areas for the potential light up

Best practices used at all times during any burning, will help prevent wildfires. Do your part by using best practices. Ensure that your wildland fire insurance coverage is in place; have a discussion with your insurance broker regarding coverages available for your property. You are responsible for the burning that you do or someone who has your authority to burn on your behalf does. If a fire gets away on you or enters your property, you are responsible for the costs of containment and/or extinguishment. The responsibility is ultimately to the landowner for complete extinguishment and all fires on the property.

For more information on fire safety in Alberta, contact Farm FireSmart today. Alternately, you can contact the Office of the Fire Commissioner at 1.866.421.6929, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit and select Public Education tab.