Barbecues are a go, but smoking and campfires are a definite no.
In light of the extended daylight and impending dog days of summer, the Courier reached out to the Vancouver Park Board and Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services to get a sense of the dos and don’ts as they relate to beaches, parks and other gathering places in Vancouver.
The first rule is simple: butt out properly, thoroughly and appropriately no matter where you are. Vancouver Fire Services Capt. Jonathan Gormick said smoking-related fires have been one of the primary concerns for fire crews during summer months year after year.
The most recent stats from smoking-related fires from between 2011 and 2014 point to losses of $5.2 million in 2013 and $1.4 million in 2011. By comparison, damage caused by barbecue fires reached its highest in 2014, costing $1.3 million.
“If you’re in a vehicle, put them in the ashtray. If you’re out in public, I know the city has hundreds, if not thousands, of cigarette receptacles for appropriate disposal,” Gormick said. “There’s absolutely no reason to be tossing them in any kind of vegetation. The potential for damage is so large.”
The ongoing problem prompted fire officials to successfully lobby council in mid-May to have $500 penalties issued to anyone who chucks a butt inappropriately: near a boulevard, planter or on to dry grass or vegetation, for example. No such fine existed previously, outside of penalties for littering. The park board fine for smoking at beaches or in parks is $250.
Like those with the park board, Gormick said compliance via a warning is always the preferred method. But with three sizeable greenspaces — Stanley, Queen Elizabeth and Everett Crowley parks — adjacent to residential areas, the need for fines was magnified.
“It’s certainly not the road we thought we would have to go down,” he said. “2015 was a huge problem. We thought all the educational messages and campaigns would stop it, but it just continued and continued.”
Campfires in parks and at beaches are also a full-fledged, full stop. They’re not allowed in any case and anyone found to be burning in those spaces can be fined between $50 and $2,000, depending on the location and severity of the fire.
Park board superintendent of citywide services Chad Cowles said the fine amount, or if one is even issued to begin with, is at the discretion of the park ranger or bylaw officer in instances of campfires or smoking.
If the guilty party claims to not know the bylaw and is compliant, a verbal warning is issued. Egregious examples Cowles cited that would trigger a fine included smoking marijuana near an elementary school or tossing a butt onto dry vegetation.
“If the person is compliant… they butt out, they put the cigarette in an appropriate location to discard it, we’ve gained compliance and that’s what we’re looking for,” he said.
Regulations around barbecuing are fairly lenient, provided that extreme fire alerts are not in place. In those instances, charcoal barbecues aren’t permitted.
Firing up the grill is best done in a designated picnic area, on a raised picnic table that has concrete underneath it to soak up any residual fuel. Picnic tables aren’t a hard and fast requirement though.
“Generally [barbecues] aren’t welcome on the beach, but open meadow spaces, open green areas, as long as they’re not tinder dry and the fire hazard is below extreme, then a person could have a self-contained barbecue anywhere in the park, essentially,” Cowles said.
As a point of precaution, Gormick recommends having a fire extinguisher nearby at all times regardless of the barbecue setting. If the grilling gets out of hand, and it’s safe to do so, the cook should close the lid and turn to the fuel supply.
“If not, just get to a safe spot and call 911,” Gormick said.