Tofino looks likely to make portable beach fire appliances mandatory in time for summer.
During an April 26 special meeting, the town’s municipal council voted unanimously to give three readings to a bylaw amendment that would require all beach fires to be contained within a portable, clean burning or reduced smoke appliance.
The amendment is expected to come up for final approval on May 11 and, if adopted, anyone caught having a beach fire without an approved appliance will face a $200 fine.
The town is also looking to shorten its permitted beach fire window from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. to 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Beach fires are currently permitted at Mackenzie Beach and Chesterman Beach and the proposed restrictions are not expected to lift the current prohibitions at other beaches like Tonquin and Cox Bay.
In a presentation to council, the district’s fire chief and manager of protective services Brent Baker said, if approved, new signage will be installed and an educational campaign will be launched to bring beachgoers up to speed on the appliance mandate and permitted times.
Baker explained the appliance mandate and shortened window for permitted fires “were intended to reduce issues in public spaces where the actions of one individual may affect hundreds of people.”
Frequent complaints around excessive fires, heavy smoke and burnt driftwood led council to consider banning beach fires altogether last year, but that idea was met with heavy pushback from community members.
“While many of the communities on Vancouver Island have chosen to go with a complete prohibition of beach fires, staff are optimistic that visitors and residents will see these changes as a compromise in reducing the health and environmental concerns without sacrificing the experience of the coastal beach fire,” Baker said.
Coun. Tom Stere asked about the communication strategy, suggesting accommodation providers and retailers that carry appliances should be given a heads up.
Baker said he is reaching out to local accommodations and suggested some are considering purchasing appliances to rent out.
Dennis Pilarinos was one of two residents who spoke against a beach fire ban during the meeting, explaining that his home backs onto Chesterman Beach and he is well aware of the impacts beach fires can have.
“I’m affected by the beach fires as they happen literally in my backyard, sometimes encroaching onto my property. I live with the noise and pollution on a daily basis and I also clean up the area of the beach in front of my home on a regular basis. I am completely OK with doing that because of the benefit that I think it actually provides to the community,” he said.
He noted the district received a substantial amount of community feedback when it raised the idea of banning beach fires in 2020 and asked how much that feedback factored into the new regulations being proposed. He also questioned whether the district had considered the possibility that the appliance mandate will prevent residents unable to afford one from participating in beach fires.
Coun. Jacky Challenger said she shared Pilarinos’ concerns about the cost of the appliances, but supported the move.
“Especially knowing that there are some resorts and accommodation providers who will be renting these units and, hopefully, that will be for both the residents and visitors,” she said. “I hope we can recognize that this is a compromise and meeting in a place where we’re not banning beach fires completely, but instead doing it in a more responsible way on many levels. I love beach fires too, so in a perfect world we’d be able to have them. I think we just need to recognize that we live in a town where it’s not sustainable to continue in the way that we have been.”
Mayor Dan Law agreed.
“This is a compromise for certain, but I think in the end it will be a good compromise and that people will catch on and will see the benefits of this with clean beaches and less smoke,” he said. “It is not a fire ban. We are not banning fires and we are not banning wood fires. We’re allowing wood fires and we’re giving people a way to have them that’s cleaner, better for the environment and better for the beaches.”