FIRE SMART: Be careful with campfires

The Vernon Fire Department provides a few tips on having a campfire

I can always tell when it’s campfire season in Vernon by the smoke in the air and complaints that come into the fire hall.

Personally, I love a good campfire, but for me it needs to be connected with getting away from the hustle and bustle of city life. In fact, I have actually read somewhere that campfires are an absolute necessity if you intend to enjoy the full experience of camping in the great outdoors.

However, I must admit that I haven’t really ever understood the rationale of having one in my backyard. Even though I have a pretty big backyard, it still doesn’t diminish my fear of setting my house and or the neighbour’s house on fire. After all, does anyone really know where those little sparks go when they leave a campfire?

Much like the necessity of having candles in my home; the risk definitely outweighs the gain and smoking up the neighbourhood and making more enemies than I already have, just doesn’t seem very appealing. Now please, before you start calling me on how important it is for you to enjoy the ambience of a campfire in your backyard or on your beachfront and where do I get off saying any different, I want to emphasize that I respect your choice. It just isn’t for me.

It is, however, important to understand that having a campfire in the city comes with the responsibility of having them safely and considerately.

The one important issue that people tend to overlook is that even if they are having the campfire on their property, they usually live close enough that it involves their neighbours as well. Believe me there is nothing like the discomfort of smoke or the fear of losing their home to get people extremely excited about what is happening on the other side of the fence.

Forget the loud and proud partying that can test neighbourly spirit all on its own, if you smoke or burn up their stuff, things are really going to get ugly fast. This unfortunately is generally the time when bylaw officers, the fire department, the RCMP and lawyers get involved and please believe me when I say, “At this point, it is never a great experience for anyone.”

My best advice for those adventurous types interested in navigating around the potential problems that the splendor of open flames in their backyard can bring is to just be neighbourly and discuss your intent with the people that are most likely to be affected.

I highly recommend this because the City of Vernon has bylaws which protect its citizens from nuisance smoke as well as the threat of their property being burned up. Here are some of the important rules that you are required to follow when enjoying a campfire or outdoor fireplace fueled by seasoned wood, charcoal briquettes, propane or natural gas in the City of Vernon.

1. A competent person must be placed in charge of the fire and must keep it under control at all times until it is completely extinguished. That person must have sufficient resources to prevent the fire from causing damage or becoming hazardous and dangerous to life and property.

2. Campfires and outdoor fireplaces must be situated not less than five metres (15 feet) from any combustibles including but not limited to buildings, sheds, grassy fields and property lines.

3. Campfires must be contained and maintained in a manner that will prevent any fire from escaping or growing bigger than 1 meter in size.

4. No person shall light a campfire or outdoor fireplace, or permit a campfire or outdoor fireplace to burn when the air quality index is less than 35 or the ventilation index is greater than 65.

5. No person may set out, start or kindle a fire that emits opaque smoke or dense smoke, or noxious odours.

6. No person, including a person to whom a special burning permit has been issued shall burn any prohibited material as outlined on schedule A of Vernon’s fire prevention bylaw.

7. No person may start a fire if wind and weather are such that to do so is likely to be hazardous or when banned under provincial regulation.

8. An inspector may order the extinguishing of any fire producing smoke in violation of the City of Vernon’s good neighbour bylaw.

9. The fire chief may take any action to ban, extinguish or require extinguishment of any burning that the fire chief considers hazardous.

Lawrie Skolrood is a deputy fire chief at Vernon Fire Rescue Services.