Charcoal black pods of beach fire remains were scattered across the high tide line at MacKenzie Beach on Aug. 21. (Photo - Andrew Bailey)

Beach fire ban debate reignited in Tofino

“It makes it feel like not a pristine place at all.”

Longtime Tofitian Wendy Amrhein is fed up with fuming at the sight of charcoal remains scattered throughout Mackenzie Beach’s otherwise serene, sandy landscape and is reigniting Tofino’s beachfire debate.

“My first choice would be a ban, but barring that possibility, I think either the resorts should clean up after their tourists or the village should clean up after the tourists,” Amrhein told the Westerly News.

She said she was prompted to voice her concerns during a recent walk along Mackenzie Beach.

“I’ve noticed it for a while, but this last time was rather appalling,” she said. “There are big, black chunks of wood and little bits of charcoal everywhere along the tideline.”

Amrhein believes banning beachfires would lead to better experiences and more positive community image.

“It would show respect for the beaches and the ocean. We’re supposed to be spearheading banning plastic straws and banning plastic bags, which I totally agree with, but let’s take it a step further,” she said. “I think it would have a positive impact on the beaches. I think it would be more pristine and cleaner and it would feel like more of a wild experience, walking on a beach that doesn’t have debris on it.”

READ MORE: Tofino and Ucluelet officially ban plastic bags and straws

Amrhein explained her concerns in a letter to her local government, dated Aug. 6, that Tofino’s municipal council reviewed on Aug. 13.

“The tides distribute the burnt wood and if you walk the beach you will see an exceptional number of burnt wood chunks everywhere. It is really distressing, disgusting and unsightly,” read part of her letter. “I know campfires are traditionally part of the outdoor beach experience but let’s break bad traditions and instead respect the beach.”

She suggested that if the district was unable to enforce an outright ban on beachfires, “the resorts should clean up the messes made by their tourists” or provide fire rings to contain the charcoal remains.

Council received Amrhein’s letter without discussion, though mayor Josie Osborne asked the district’s fire chief and manager of protective services Brent Baker for his input.

Baker suggested concerns over beachfires have simmered down, with less complaints coming in this summer compared to last.

“We’ve received fewer of these letters this year,” he said. “The feedback that I’ve been getting from the RCMP and bylaw staff is that the scenario has been improving. They’ve not reported much burning of driftwood during the hours that they are available for patrol.”

Beachfires are banned at Cox Bay and other beaches within Tofino, but remain permitted at Chesterman and Mackenze Beach from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.

READ MORE: Burnt driftwood sparks push to ban beach fires in Tofino

An investigation into what the district could do was sparked by complaints around fire remains, particularly burnt driftwood, in August 2018 and led to the district strengthening its education efforts around beachfire laws. The municipality prohibits burning driftwood and enforces regulations around how fires are extinguished, but educational materials released by the district office do not mandate removing legally burnt debris.

The district officially adopted a bylaw in the spring of 2019 requiring all businesses selling firewood to post provincial and municipal campfire regulations in their stores.

READ MORE: Tofino hopes to extinguish illegal beach fires this summer

During the Aug. 13 meeting’s public question period, the Westerly News asked if council had considered banning beachfires since passing that bylaw.

“There’s been no further discussion at the council table about enacting a fire ban above and beyond what the Coastal Fire Centre dictates,” Osborne responded.

Amrhein told the Westerly she had not received a response from the district to her letter as of Aug. 20, and she disagreed with the suggestion that the situation has improved from last summer.

“Absolutely not. I don’t agree with that,” she said, adding she walks along Mackenzie Beach at least three times a week and finds beachfire debris about every three metres.

She said she has lived in the area for over 40 years and the beach is as bad as she’s ever seen it.

“It has gotten worse,” she said. “It makes it feel like not a pristine place at all. It makes it feel like the beach is primarily used by the tourists and the locals, kind of, have to mop up after them… It’s very unsightly.”

The Westerly News was unable to reach Baker for comment by presstime.



andrew.bailey@westerlynews.ca

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