Bonfires are officially a thing of the past on some of Vancouver Island’s most popular beaches.
Beach fires are not.
Portable fire appliances are officially mandatory on Tofino’s public beaches. Council unanimously adopted the controversial new law — which took effect immediately — on May 11.
“There’s been some talk that this is a burning ban. This is not a burning ban. This is increased regulations to restrict fires to a portable appliance. We can still have fires, they just have to be in a suitable appliance,” Mayor Dan Law said.
Fires are permitted at two Tofino beaches, Mackenzie and Chesterman from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., though the new restrictions mean that anyone caught having a beach fire outside a permitted clean burning or reduced smoke appliance will face a $200 fine. Fires remain prohibited at all other beaches in town, regardless of whether a fire appliance is being used and anyone caught having one at places like Cox Bay or Tonquin Beach face a $300 fine.
The mandate only applies to public beaches and does not affect fires on private property.
Law first pitched the idea of mandating fire appliances as a fire ban alternative when he was a councillor in 2020 and brought his own appliance to a council meeting last fall where the town was debating whether to ban beach fires entirely.
He said he was happy to see the idea come to fruition and hopes it will address the issues of excessive smoke, charred driftwood and debris left behind.
“The other option is a complete ban, so I’m very happy that we have come up with a compromise where we can still have fires,” he said. “I’m hoping that once people realize that this isn’t the end of the world and it’s something that’s going to enable them to still have a beach fire, once they get into it and they realize these things work, they’re accessible, they’re attainable, they’re fairly easy to use, they embrace it and go with it and then we can have beach fires long into the future.”
He acknowledged concerns have been raised about whether mandating appliances will make beach fires cost-restrictive for some residents.
“There’s certainly expensive models at hundreds of dollars, there’s also much cheaper fire pits and then there’s the option of getting creative and making one that works,” he said. “I don’t think the cost is going to be so exorbitant that people are going to be pushed over the edge.”
He also spoke to concerns raised by residents who fear that after COVID-19 travel restrictions are lifted, visitors will simply buy an appliance when they arrive in town with no intentions of lugging it back home and instead leave it behind on the beach.
“I’m sure that when Europeans and overseas travellers come they are going to try their best to fit into the culture and do what they need to do to behave accordingly, at least that is my experience,” he said. “I think Tofino is one of the last communities allowing any type of beach fire at all. So, most people see it as a surprise and a luxury and they don’t feel entitled to it.
“I don’t think it’s going to be a big problem.”
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