Council to look at banning backyard fires in urban areas

Bylaw amendments would outlaw wood-fuelled campfires, food smokers and fire pits.

click to enlarge YA BURNT. - VIA ISTOCK
via iStock

Some summertime fun could be extinguished by new bylaw amendments that would ban open air burning in Halifax's urban core.

A staff report headed to Regional Council is recommending HRM prohibit open air burning on any residential properties that are within 50 feet of another structure and without a septic system.

The proposed regulations would also outlaw any homemade wood burning devices—including campfires, steel drums and food smokers—while limiting others appliances like chimeneas and outdoor fireplaces to larger, rural and suburban lots.

Current bylaws allow for a fire on residential property between 2pm and midnight (unless it’s a designated “no burn” day), and so long as there’s a 15-foot minimum distance to any neighbouring structures.

For comparison, this map of north end Halifax shows how many lots meet the current 15-foot boundary (illustrated in green) with how many would fall under the proposed 50-foot setback (shown in red). Below that is the same information mapped onto a section of Fall River.

Two years ago, council approved amendments to Bylaw 0-109 (“Respecting Open Air Burning”) that set time restrictions on open air fires in HRM, based on new requirements in Nova Scotia’s forest fire protection regulations.

This new staff report, prepared by deputy fire chief Roy Hollet, reports that the cutoff times have had little impact in reducing 911 calls about illegal backyard burns—most of which are made by neighbours bothered by all the smoke.

“Neighbours who find the smoke to be a nuisance, are continuing to call 911 and report the situation as an illegal burn or asking [Halifax Regional Fire & Emergency] to attend and investigate the location where the smoke is coming from,” writes Hollett.

From April to October of 2015, HRFE responded to 515 nuisance fire calls about open air burnings. Many of those fires, Hollett notes, turned out to be meeting all bylaw requirements and were allowed to proceed—but it was still a waste of everyone's time.

“It unnecessarily removes the fire crew from being in a position to respond to higher level emergencies,” writes Hollett, “and as well, puts the Fire Officer in a position of having to mediate disputes between neighbours.”

The fire departments hopes that only allowing backyard open air burning on larger rural lots will lead to fewer smoky arguments, and fewer 911 calls.

The amendments, if passed, would still allow for any approved propane or natural gas appliances, as well as small charcoal-fuelled barbecues and commercially-manufactured food smokers.

Council will debate the amendments Tuesday at City Hall.

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