Concerns over beach fires flare up every summer in Tofino, so the district is cracking down on illegal fires by sparking new efforts towards educating residents and visitors on what they can and can’t do.
Tofino’s municipal council is considering a new bylaw that would require all businesses selling firewood to post provincial and municipal campfire regulations in their store and provide each customer buying firewood with a handout copy of those regulations.
The draft bylaw currently suggests that failure to do either will result in a $50 fine.
“The information is out there, but not very many people will check the provincial website on fire bans and restrictions. They, kind of, wait until somebody tells them,” Tofino’s manager of protective services Brent Baker told the Westerly News. “So, now, we’re going to make sure they get it and they’re welcome to use it as fire-starter after they read it.”
Mackenzie Beach and Chesterman Beach are the only beaches where fires are permitted, but that doesn’t mean those beaches are a free-for-all as regulations are in play, including how large a fire can be, how far away it must be from trees and how much water needs to be on hand.
The proposed bylaw grew from a December council meeting where district staff was directed to improve education around beach fires and reach out to the tourism industry to help get the message out to visitors.
District staff met with Tourism Tofino and the Tofino Resort Association earlier this year to discuss the developing bylaw and both organizations were asked to comb through their websites and social media channels and remove any imagery and language that could promote illegal fires.
The district also plans to install new signage at public beach access points and post information about fire regulations on its website and social media channels.
Baker hopes that ensuring information is distributed will cut down on the excuses of ignorance his bylaw staff routinely hears on the beach.
“This is so that people who go to the beach to have their fire will arrive with their shovel, with their water, with all those things already. As opposed to us showing up and saying, ‘We’ll wait here while you go back to your [hotel] room and get all those things that you should have had to begin with,’” he said.
He added that, if enacted, the new bylaw could lead to more fines being handed out.
“This way, you buy a bundle of firewood, you get that information, you have it right there. Then, you walk onto the beach and you see some of the signs that we’re hoping to get out there that have a bit more education on them and that’s the second time you’ve gotten the information,” he said. “So, by the time our bylaw department meets you on the beach, if you’re not meeting the expectations, you could be receiving a ticket right away from the first interaction with bylaw because you’ve had that information twice already.”
The fines associated with illegal beach fires vary and include $50 for having a fire in a prohibited area, $100 for not having an adequate amount of water on hand, $100 for burning beach material, like driftwood, and $200 for failing to extinguish a fire.
Baker said the increased education efforts will, hopefully, also cut down on the amount of driftwood being illegally burned.
“To me, the burning of driftwood is kind of like graffiti. Really, the only ones happy with it are the ones doing it,” he said. “It leaves these ugly scars that are there for a really long time and the burning of driftwood is actually toxic as well. Sometimes burning that material can cause blindness and other issues.”
The proposed bylaw is expected to go through a public review process in April before council decides whether to make it official.