high park burn

High Park in Toronto was just set on fire and the photos are apocalyptic

If you happened to see billowing clouds of smoke rising above High Park in Toronto on Thursday, don't worry, the cherry trees are totally fine.

It was all just an annual controlled burn carried out by the city to keep the popular public space safe.

The city announced on Wednesday evening that the prescribed burn would take place on Thursday from 10 a.m. to approximately 6 p.m.

Prior to the start of the burn, vehicle traffic into the park was shut down at 7 a.m., and an opening ceremony and traditional smudge were led by Indigenous Elders Vivian Recollet and Henry Pitawanakwat at 10 a.m.

Burns are carried out yearly to consume dried leaves, small twigs, and grass stems from the park without harming larger trees, like the cherry-blossom-producing headliners thousands flock to see each spring.

These deliberate burns have been happening every spring for almost two decades as part of Toronto's long-term management plan to protect and sustain High Park's rare black oak woodlands and savannahs.

A fire boss contracted by the city oversaw the whole operation to maintain safety, working in collaboration with Toronto Fire Services and the Toronto Police Service.

During the burn, traditional drumming and dancing accompanied each site's ignition, honouring the controlled burns used by Indigenous people to maintain fire-dependent ecosystems before European colonization.

Recognizing the burn's importance to Indigenous cultures, the city has collaborated with Indigenous Land Stewardship Circle and Elder Henry Pitawanakwat to officially rename the High Park Burn Biinaakzigewok Anishnaabeg, meaning "the responsibility for a cleansing fire by all Native Peoples" in Anishinaabemowin.

High Park remains closed to vehicles Thursday afternoon, and is expected to reopen to the public in the early evening hours once smoke dissipates. Some areas of the park may remain restricted for safety reasons.

The city warns that, while smoke from the prescribed burns lifts and does not affect surrounding neighbourhoods under ideal conditions, there is the possibility for smoke to settle in residential areas near the park.

Those with asthma or high sensitivity to poison ivy living in proximity to the park might want to skip out on the lovely weather and stay indoors until the smoke clears.

Photos by

Fareen Karim

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