NORTH PERTH – The municipality has been working on updating the burn bylaw which has been in place since Sept. 17, 2001. On July 19, North Perth Fire Chief Ed Smith present a draft of an updated bylaw to council.
“We’ve had numerous questions and complaints throughout the years and it was determined that that bylaw should be reviewed,” he said. “The proposed updates include clearly defined requirements for both rural and urban open-air burnings and reporting process for nuisance fires and updated appendices dictating recreational fires requirement, materials that can and cannot be burned and approved burning appliances.”
Smith said it’s a diverse municipality and they are dealing with the issues of having fires within the rural areas and fires in urban areas as well as dealing with fire bans, permissions, penalties and prevention.
“What we also did was indicate how to report illegal and nuisance fires and the requirements if you wish to report a… fire,” he said. “The big issue we ran into was that we had a lot of people complaining (about) giving us information regarding reports.”
Smith said that if people will not give contact information and the complaint has to go to court they will not be in a very good position.
Coun. Matt Richardson raised concerns about the wording in the draft of the bylaw regarding having a hose at the ready to extinguish the fire if need be.
He also raised a concern with the portion of the bylaw which states “no barbecues or open-air burning of any kind shall be permitted on balconies of residential buildings.”
He wondered if there should be a clarification of what warrants a residential building.
“I’m just thinking of the number of multi-unit dwellings that we currently have in the municipality that we want to make sure that we can differentiate between multi-level residential units and also residential units that just have a side split or an elevated patio of which then being a single dwelling would be allowed to go on here,” said Richardson.
Mayor Todd Kasenberg said he wondered if asphalt shingles and other building supplies should be added to the list of materials that cannot be burned as he has heard complaints about such items being burned in North Perth.
He also said there has been complaints brought to his attention about the frequency some people have fires and how it can make it so neighbours cannot enjoy their properties during the summer months.
“Complaints include… fires so frequently that they are constantly having to close their windows in summer months because they can’t stand the smoke,” said Kasenberg. “I don’t see that dealt with here in any particular way so I draw to your attention that certainly there have been complaints brought to my attention… what right does a neighbour have if their neighbours are running fires seven days a week and 12 or 13 hours a day? I think we should consider at least that concern because it has been expressed… so I think we might need to think a little bit about… whether there is anything that should be done short of telling neighbours to have arm-wrestling matches in their driveways.”
Smith said the biggest issue with that is trying to police how many fires a person has had because it becomes a he-said, she-said situation.
“If a neighbour does give us complaints that there is a number of fires going on and they go through all the proper channels for information we will address that,” he said. “The biggest issue that we run into… is the fact that we get complaints but nobody wants to give up any information… As I tried to indicate before our system works a little like the police services that if we have to appear in court over it we can’t just sit in court and say we had a phone call – we have to have all the proper documentation in place when we receive the information.”
Kasenberg pointed out that in Section 3.2 of the bylaw there is a clause which states “no burning is allowed if smoke conflicts with any neighbours.”
“That clause is pretty strict… that might be too aggressive. I don’t know. I encourage you to think about that one a little bit further in your deliberations,” he said.
Smith said that clause was in the old bylaw and what they would do if there was a call about a nuisance fire is tell the person having the fire that they are having an issue with neighbours because they are interfering with normal day-to-day life because of smoke going in windows.
The fire department would encourage courtesy during these situations and tell people to try to have fires when they are not going to interfere with their neighbours.
“Fair enough, as long as you feel that wording doesn’t compromise you one way or the other on that matter,” said Kasenberg.
He then suggested directing staff to conduct a brief consultation with the public through social media and yoursaynorthperth.ca.
Richardson suggested they may not need to go back to public consultation, especially because there are recommendations in the bylaw coming directly from the fire department.
“The biggest issue you’ll have is this is a law you are trying to put into place and it’s like any other law you try to put into place – there will be a lot of consultation into it,” said Smith. “There will be people who wish there is no burning, period. There will be the people who want to have recreational fires.”
Due to the pandemic, he said people are having a lot more recreational fires.
“Under the Fire Protection and Prevention Act it does say that you can have a small confined fire to use for cooking purposes,” he said. “A bylaw does not overrule the Fire Protection and Prevention Act… It makes it very difficult to stop burning completely because… it can become very confrontational if you go for public input in a bylaw where you are trying to govern something. I do understand, yes the public has the right to have their opinion, but I think you are going to open up an awful can of worms and we’ll be sitting a year from now and not have this bylaw in place.”
“I lean as I said – I suppose it’s part of the philosophical framework towards greater public consultation versus lesser but that doesn’t change the fact that I’m happy to hear the will of council and move forward,” said Kasenberg. “You know it seems that there are a few councillors who would prefer the fire department bring this to fruition. I guess we act as good elected representatives if the citizens of North Perth are approaching us between now and this next meeting about this fire bylaw, we represent their considerations fully so I’m OK with that.”
The motion was changed to remove the public consultation Kasenberg had suggested. A revised draft of the burn bylaw will be coming back to council for approval on Aug. 9.
Colin Burrowes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Listowel Banner