A panorama of the Alberni Valley shows the smoke effect from last year. MIKE YOUDS PHOTO

Increased open burning restrictions take effect in Alberni Valley

Rules aimed at reducing harmful particulate in populated areas

New open burning regulations could make a visible improvement in Alberni Valley air quality this fall if new restrictions are respected.

That’s the goal of the region’s new Open Burning Smoke Control Regulation, which came into effect Sept. 15, coinciding with the traditional season for pile burning by land owners and industry.

“The purpose of the new regulations is to ensure the least amount of impact with a geographical area,” said Anna Lewis, chairwoman of the Port Alberni Air Quality Council, a local body focused on improving air quality since 2003.

Nanaimo-based meteorologist Earle Plain of the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy met last week with the local council to provide an overview of the changes.

“The difference with the new regulations is in high smoke sensitivity areas and that applies to the whole Alberni Valley,” Plain said.

There are more restrictions around populated areas and fewer restrictions in outlying areas, he noted. Two key changes are increased fire setbacks and reduced burning times. Category 3 or so-called pile burning has to be a minimum of 500 metres from a neighbouring residence or building and 1,000 metres from a school or care facility.

Open burning is the largest source of fine, suspended particulate matter known at PM 2.5. Port Alberni, Duncan and Courtenay are the most seriously affected communities on the Island, exceeding national air quality standards. Open burning and residential wood burning are largely to blame. Smoke levels tend to peak in November when open burning is most common.

In the past, open burning was permitted for periods of three to four days; now it’s allowed for a maximum of 36 hours and there are new provisions to encourage single-day fires.

The new rules — which apply only to wood larger than 10 centimetres in diameter — are designed to reduce smouldering and smoke buildup that typically occurs when the sun goes down and winds drop, Plain said. Instead, they encourage small, hot fires for more efficient combustion and reduced smoke.

Conservation officers are responsible for enforcing the regulations on the basis of public complaints.

— Mike Youds

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