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Cornwall imposes outdoor fire ban

Cornwall, Ont., is imposing an open-air burn ban because the city's fire department is spending too much time dealing with smoke complaints.

Fire department inundated with smoke complaints, chief says

Cornwall firefighters had already responded to 50 complaints about smoky outdoor fires by July, Chief Pierre Voisine told council. (Shutterstock)

Cornwall, Ont., is imposing an open-air burn ban because the city's fire department is spending too much time dealing with smoke complaints.

Cornwall city council voted 8-3 Monday night to phase out outdoor fires after Chief Pierre Voisine asked council to amend the bylaw and prohibit the practice.

On Friday evenings on a warm night, people would leave their homes because their neighbours are burning [fires] and there's too much smoke.- Cornwall fire Chief Pierre Voisine

Currently, 260 Cornwall residents have permits to light outdoor fires, Voisine said.

"When you have a bylaw that only [benefits] a small percentage of people in your city and then you have a high amount of complaints, you need to do something about it," Voisine told CBC Radio's All In A Day on Tuesday.

While the complaints are typically handled by Cornwall's bylaw department, firefighters take over when that office is closed.

Cornwall residents will no longer be able to get a permit for a wood fire on their properties. We call the fire chief for an explainer. 6:15

Health concerns

According to Voisine's report to council, the fire department responded to 62 open fire-related complaints in 2018. By this July, there had already been 50.

"There's obviously a lot of complaints regarding smoke," Voisine said. "We've had people tell us that on Friday evenings on a warm night, people would leave their homes because their neighbours are burning [fires] and there's too much smoke."

Wood-burning fires "create particulate matter composed of many different chemicals," Voisine noted in his report.

A memo from the city's medical officer of health that was attached to the report confirms exposure to wood smoke can result in "burning eyes, runny nose, irritation of the airways, coughing or difficulty breathing and worsening of pre-existing lung conditions."

Clear alternatives

Cornwall residents with valid permits, which cost $100 and last three years, won't need to stop burning right away.

"We're going to grandfather them out so those who have a permit that still has one, two or three years left on it will be allowed to continue to burn," Voisine said.

But when those permits expire, they won't be renewed.

"In the meantime, we're going to continue trying to convince people to move to fuel-based appliances. They offer a cleaner option in terms of holding a nice fire in your backyard," Voisine said. 

Firing up such appliances, which typically use natural gas, propane or ethanol, won't require a permit as long as they're certified and used in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions, the chief said.

With files from CBC Radio's All in a Day

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