Central Saanich is moving ahead with what a report called a “balanced approach” as the basis for updating its open air burning bylaw.
Council, meeting as the committee of the whole Monday, paved the path for an updated bylaw that eschews the status quo, but falls short of matching stricter provincial regulations that “restrict all types of outdoor burning to days when the venting index is most favorable to the dispersion of smoke,” according to a staff report from Chris Vrabel, Central Saanich’s fire chief.
Councillors instead agreed with Vrabel’s recommendation to change parts of the current bylaw, which allows for yard waste disposal fires on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturday mornings until noon regardless of atmospheric conditions as defined by the venting index.
The new bylaw will ‘transition’ yard waste burning days to days when atmospheric conditions are forecast favourable for the dispersion of smoke, he said in the report. At the same time, Fridays will remain available for burning regardless of the venting index.
Vrabel said this option is a “balanced approach” that allows the municipality to phase in the venting index requirement for yard waste fires while preserving “certainty” around when burning can take place as per the existing bylaw.
Existing provincial regulations do not govern smaller yard waste disposal fires “used for the purpose of burning leaves, foliage, crops or stubble for domestic or agricultural purposes” according to Vrabel’s report. They instead fall under Central Saanich’s bylaw passed in 1993.
Large fires defined as Category 2 and Category 3 fires fall under provincial regulation, which would not change under the new bylaw.
The municipality started to look at revising its 26-year-old bylaw after receiving an Island Health letter in October 2017 that raised concerns about the actual and potential health effects of domestic wood burning and backyard burning including lung cancer.
The question of whether to permit or prohibit yard waste fires has proven divisive. As Vrabel wrote in his report, “open air burning highlighted varying opinions with some respondents requesting a complete ban on open burning while others preferred the current regulations,” he said. “The majority of respondents however agree that air quality was important.”
The bylaw will also encourage alternatives to burning such as composting or redirecting to yard waste drop off facilities. The revisions will also give the fire chief the “discretion” to allow fires in poor venting conditions for bona fide reasons (such as storm clean up) and allow or prohibit fires for reason of fire safety.
Coun. Zeb King opposed the recommendation, which still requires final approval.
Central Saanich’s open burning season opens Nov. 1 and closes April 30, 2020.
Provincial regulations govern larger fires used for agriculture, land clearing and other activities in having to follow the venting index.