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Council Stops Bylaw Banning Residential Campfires

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Council was hesitant to pass a bylaw this week that would completely ban residential campfires at Whistler homes.

Instead they asked Fire Chief Bruce Hall to rewrite parts of the new bylaw to allow some backyard campfires.

Hall was slightly worried about council’s reticence to the ban.

"I think I have a little bit of concern especially when it’s dry," said Hall after Monday’s council meeting.

"However, we still have within the bylaw the right to stop any type of open burning within the municipality, which would include that type of backyard campfire.

"The concern that we’ve had in the past is that some people are really good (with their campfires) and others aren’t."

Some councillors balked at the total ban, which would have allowed campfires in designated sites like private campgrounds, but not at residences.

"This is very good timing, given what we’ve gone through in the last few weeks," said Councillor Caroline Lamont.

But still, she said, many people have built fireplaces in their backyard out of cement and bricks and these are relatively safe.

Just because you have a few reckless people out there with backyard campfires doesn’t mean you can ban everyone from enjoying one, said Lamont.

Councillor Nick Davies echoed her concerns, questioning the definition of "open burning."

"It bothers me that we’re potentially removing the ability to have a little fire and roast some hot dogs in the backyard," he said.

Even with the rewrite to allow residential campfires, the fire department will still retain the right to shut down backyard campfires if conditions are not safe.

Hall said the bylaw was targeted not so much at the residents using cement campfires or barbecues, but rather the people who have fashioned a ring-of-stones type campfire in an unsafe site.

Hall said there are a few things to consider before striking a match, such as:

• make sure the soil underneath the campfire is a good mineral soil and not peat;

• make sure there are no tree roots under the site of the fire in case heat travels along them and ignites brush or surrounding forest.

• keep the fire in an open area away from trees;

• keep the fire small;

• clear any brush or pine needles from the campfire area and:

• don’t have a campfire when conditions are dry.

Once rewritten and approved the new fire bylaw will replace an 11-year-old bylaw and will have a number of changes.

Two significant changes are a result of the forest fires that ravaged parts of the province this summer causing mass evacuations and leaving a wake of destruction in their path.

The first is the adoption of the BC Forest Service Regulations in relation to the stopping of work in forested areas.

And the second change allows the municipality to shut down all trails in its jurisdiction, which was something it was not legally allowed to do this summer even though they went ahead with the trail ban anyway.

"We had no legal means of closing our trails when we did some research on that," said Hall.

"Really it depend(ed) on the good will of the people.

"That (change) was definitely a result of the summer."

Many of the other changes in the bylaw are not related to this summer’s forest fires but instead are just part of updating the old bylaw.

"It’s just been a matter of refining it and looking at what other municipalities are doing," said Hall.

If the new bylaw is approved the fire department will limit the time residents are allowed to burn their garden debris. Currently they are allowed to burn debris for one month in the spring and one month in the fall. Under the new bylaw this will be limited to two weekends in April and October.

They will have the option to take debris to the landfill with a free debris dump day in the spring.

The idea is to move to a complete ban of fall and spring debris burning but only once there are suitable composting facilities available. Carney’s Waste System is currently in the process of developing an organic composting facility for the corridor, which could take some of the garden debris.

"I would hope that we could do it within the next year but I think there’s an onus on us to provide people with a means of disposing of that type of material," said Hall.

"We’re hoping through recycling that we’re able to find a methodology that will allow people to, in essence, recycle their leaves and small branches and that type of thing."

A number of new fees will also be introduced in this updated bylaw. For example, property owners will be charged a fee if they do not provide a contact person in case of a fire alarm emergency, or if the person takes longer than 30 minutes to respond to the alarm.

The fees are just a way of dealing with financial stability and cost recovery as directed through the Whistler 2002 Vision document, which addresses financial stability.

The fire department is also working on a building bylaw that could ban cedar shakes for roofing on any new developments or on new roofs in the municipality.

In many cases homes burn because the roof catches fire. One of the best fire precautions to take is making roofs fire resistant.

Hall said there have been times when a spark has come from the chimney, landed on a cedar shake roof, and started a roof fire.

"If it’s a metal roof or a non-combustible roof, the opportunity for a fire in a home is much reduced," said Hall.

The fire department is working on the two bylaws and hopes to bring them before council for approval soon.

If any resident is concerned about their backyard campfire site, they can invite the fire department to check it over for hazards.

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