Smoked out Sudburians hope to re-ignite debate over backyard fire permits

Some Sudburians are still concerned about air quality in their neighbourhoods, a year after a plan to restrict backyard burning went up in smoke.

"It's worse than cigarette smoke."


Marc Laplante worries about the air he is breathing inside his Lively home, thanks to his neighbours enjoying the great outdoors around a backyard campfire.

"We'll go out in the day and come home late in the evening, and the street is cloudy with smoke," he says.

"Then you get home and the smell."

Laplante was one of the Sudburians who worked with the Greater Sudbury fire department to develop a permitting system for backyard burning.

Lively man Marc Laplante would still like to see greater restrictions on backyard burning in Greater Sudbury. (Markus Schwabe/CBC)

City council endorsed the idea in November 2015. Then staff tabled a bylaw in spring 2016, which would require an inspection and a $50 permit before a backyard fire would be permitted.

That prompted an outcry from the public, who signed petitions, commented on social media, called their city councillors and eventually drove them to call the original vote a "mistake" and scrap the whole plan.

But Laplante still feels there's a silent majority concerned about air quality as much as he is.

"I think there's a much larger public out there that has an opinion as well that don't want to voice much to it," he says.

Laplante points to the numerous cities that require burning permits or even have outright bans on yard fires, as well as Greater Sudbury's tough treatment of cigarette smoke, including banning it from parks and playgrounds.

"I can build an bonfire in my backyard, the wind can take all that smoke through and contaminate the entire park," he says.

"It's worse than cigarette smoke."

Trevor Bain is the chief of Fire and Paramedic Services in Greater Sudbury. (Erik White/CBC)

Greater Sudbury chief of fire and paramedic services Trevor Bain says burning complaints, which have to be called into 911, are up slightly in the last year, with trucks going out to about 350 calls.

But Bain says it's very rare to issue tickets, as most citizens comply when firefighters show up.

He says the permitting system was partially inspired by the city's P6M project, a push to cut costs and increase revenues at city hall to the tune of $6 million, with the permits expected to bring in a few thousand dollars per year. 

Bain says there has been no talk of revisiting the bylaw in the last year. 

"We see it as status quo," Bain says.

"And there was no further direction given to us by council to make any changes."


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