Cornwall residents fired up over city's outdoor burn ban

The eastern Ontario city may have voted to prohibit outdoor fires due to health concerns, but it's finding opposition to the plan a bit harder to extinguish.

Group took complaints to special council meeting earlier this week

Rodney Rivette's group wants the City of Cornwall to reconsider a ban on all outdoor open-air fires and instead boost enforcement of the previous bylaw. (Robson Fletcher/CBC)

The city of Cornwall, Ont., may have voted to ban outdoor fires due to smoke-related health concerns, but it's finding opposition to the plan a bit harder to extinguish.

Rodney Rivette recently co-organized a meeting attended by about 80 people against the ban, and was part of a delegation that showed up at a special council meeting Monday to share their concerns.

"People have gathered around fires since we were dragging our knuckles on the ground," Rivette told CBC Radio's All In A Day Wednesday.

"That's the thing here. We feel it's a part of our community history. It's a part of our human history. And if done properly with respect to your neighbours, there shouldn't be any problems."

Smoke complaints prompted ban

Earlier this month, Cornwall city council voted 8-3 to phase out outdoor wood fires after fire Chief Pierre Voisine asked council to amend the bylaw and prohibit the practice.

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 told CBC Radio's All In A Day following the vote.

"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."

Voisine said the fire department would urge people to switch to "cleaner" fuel-based appliances instead of burning wood. People with valid fire burn permits will be able to use them until they expire, but they won't be renewed.

Penalize, don't prohibit

Rivette told All In A Day he completely understands that some people might have health concerns, and encouraged everyone to be responsible when building fires.

But instead of prohibiting open-air fires outright, Rivette said a "good solid plan" would be to boost enforcement of the previous bylaw by increasing the penalties for people who violate it.

The bylaw placed restrictions on the size of the "appliances" used to build fires, such as fire bowls or steel drums, as well as their proximity to existing buildings.

It also required they be extinguished in windy conditions.

Rodney Rivette is co-organizer of the opposition. 9:09

Rivette said he was curious how many complaints were directed at the roughly 260 residents with permits to light outdoor fires.

"We're not [asking to build] a bonfire that you'd see at a campsite, or you know, in a farmer's field. We're talking two logs in a little appliance," Rivette said.

"So it's not like people in Cornwall are burning fires that are to the top of their houses." 

In a statement, the City of Cornwall said staff and council will be hosting public consultations on open-air burning in the coming weeks, and encouraged people to share their opinions.


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