Is it allowed to light a fire in forests?

burning small campfire in the forest
Photo: BML / Rainer Hinterleitner

Is it allowed to build a campfire in forests? Who is actually allowed to light and maintain a fire in forests and what should be taken into account?

Lighting or maintaining a fire in forests
The Forest Act 1975 stipulates that lighting or maintaining fires in forests, in the timberline zone of forests, also near forests (the forest’s area of risk; where conditions prevail that favour the spread of a forest fire), by unauthorised persons as well as the incautious use of flammable items, is prohibited.

This also includes the throwing away of burning or glowing items, such as matches and tobacco products.
Who is authorised to light or maintain a fire in forests?
Authorised persons include the owner of the forest, his forest officers, forest protection and game-protection officers and forest workers as well as other persons in possession of a written permit of the owner of the forest.

In the area of risk, the owner of the land and his/her agents are considered authorised.

A person using the forest for recreational purposes within the framework of the general right of use may therefore only light a fire if he or she holds a written permit of the forest owner to do so.

For permanent tent or camping sites, the forest authority may grant exceptions from the prohibition of lighting and maintaining a fire by unauthorised persons.

Clearance burning and burning-off of plant residues as a measure of forest management
Clearance burning or other area-wise burning-off of plant residues is permitted only if this does not pose a danger to the forest, affect the quality of the soil or create the risk of a forest fire.

The intention to start such a fire must be reported to the local authority no later than before commencement stating location and time.

Persons authorised to light a fire must proceed with the greatest caution: The fire must be supervised and carefully extinguished before leaving it.

Regulations concerning areas exposed to the risk of forest fire
During periods when the risk of fire is particularly high, the authority shall prohibit any lighting of fire (even by authorised persons) for high-risk areas as well as smoking in the forest and its area of risk.

If there is a specific reason, the authority can prohibit persons not involved in forest management from entering areas exposed to the risk of forest fire.

The authority must announce such prohibitions of lighting fire, smoking in forests or entering forests in a suitable manner (informing the population and the owners of the forests, e.g. by advertisements in mass media, community newspapers).

Administrative offences and penalties for criminal offences punishable by a court
Unauthorised setting up or maintaining of fire places is punishable by a fine of up to 3,630
or imprisonment for up to two weeks. Persons otherwise infringing provision § 40 of the Forest Act, which regulates the lighting of fires in forests, who for example throw away glowing tobacco products (such as cigarette butts) in a forest, are punishable by a fine of up to  150.

If acting like that has resulted in a forest fire, this can also constitute a criminal offence which is punishable by a court according to § 169 or § 170 of the Austrian Criminal Code.
Legal basis

• Forest Act 1975, Federal Law Gazette No 440, as last amended by Federal Law Gazette I No 56/2016 "RIS"

Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Regions and Water Management
Directorate III/2 - Forest Legislation, Legal Policy and Vocational Qualification
Marxergasse 2
1030 Vienna
Director Mag. Katharina Kaiser
Phone: +43 1 711 00 - 606681