Despite regulations governing backyard burning and the threat of hefty fines for anyone flouting those rules, Sooke Fire Rescue Chief Kenn Mount says his department regularly gets complaints from residents about air quality.
It’s a situation that’s prompted Coun. Tony St-Pierre to call for a municipal staff report.
“We need to examine whether our bylaws make sense,” St-Pierre said.
“Maybe it’s time for us to look at options like a yard waste service.”
St-Pierre has been aware of smoke complaints for some time, but those concerns took a slightly different turn this year when he got wind of one particularly pungent fire.
“We had one resident who was burning large quantities of cannabis waste,” St-Pierre said.
“It was apparently very noticeable and raised concerns.”
But it’s not only the smell of pot in the air that has concerned Sooke residents.
“We get a lot of calls from people who are more interested to the right to breathe clean air than they are with the right to burn yard waste,” Mount said.
“There are a lot of burning complaints, even when the burning is happening within compliance with the bylaws.”
Mount said difficulties arise when fires run afoul of the venting index requirements for burning. That’s the ability for the smoke to clear as opposed to settling in the area surrounding the fire.
St-Pierre, who admits that his own agricultural activities require him to burn garden waste, says he’s well aware of the venting index and always tries to minimize smoke from his fires.
“First off, we compost as much as possible and really cut down on what’s left. But burning is needed from time to time and when we burn we burn very hot and there isn’t much smoke,” St-Pierre said.
“But if we had a drop-off spot for garden waste we could possibly do away with the backyard burns completely.”
He said eliminating the burning of garden waste would also prevent the burning of other materials that regularly takes place.
“We have people burning everything from yard waste to mattresses and couches right now. That has to stop,” St-Pierre said.
And burning garbage doesn’t just happen in backyard fires.
“We get complaints when people burn things like plastics in their open fireplaces,” Mount said.
“Not only is that the wrong thing to do from an air quality perspective, it also builds up creosote and can easily result in a chimney fire.”
The same risk, said Mount, exists when, during the holidays, people decide to burn all that wrapping paper in their fireplaces.
As a final recommendation, Mount suggests that residents have their chimneys professionally cleaned.
“Every year we have someone who thinks they’ll do it by themselves and end up stuck up on the roof. We get the call and have to get them down. Better to hire a professional.”