Fruitvale fire ban request goes up in smoke

Fruitvale resident Melissa Hart’s request for council to ban backyard campfires has gone up in smoke.

A Fruitvale resident’s request for council to ban backyard campfires has gone up in smoke.

Melissa Hart approached council last month to request a total outdoor wood burning ban within the village limits.

Hart’s reason for a ban was health related, as she and her four-year-old son require medical treatment for asthma, a breathing condition exacerbated by wood burning.

“When we moved to Fruitvale five years ago, my husband and I thought it was a great opportunity to get clean, fresh air for our future child, she explained.

“But now I can’t even open my windows because of all the smoke.”

Council deferred its decision pending further review, but after a committee of the whole meeting last Monday, it was decided that the village would not change its current burning bylaw.

“I am feeling helpless because I am right back where I started, said Hart.

The couple built an environmentally friendly home, an “asthmatic’s dream house,” said Hart. The interior is replete with hardwood floors and HVAC system, but due to air inversion in Beaver Valley, nearby campfire smoke settles into her backyard.

Within the legal limits of a backyard fire, the neighbours enjoy intermittent campfires, she said.

“But our house is kind of in a ‘hole’ and the smoke comes right down into our yard.”

The Fruitvale burning bylaw restricts open fires to piled material no larger than one-half metre in height and one-half metre in width and cannot contain household refuse or compostable yard or garden waste.

“In a survey of our constituents we determined that most taxpayers enjoy their intermittent campfires and ceremonial fires that are permitted, said Mayor Patricia Cecchini.

“Although council empathized with residents suffering from asthma and other cardiovascular conditions, they decided to respect the wishes of the majority of taxpayers.”

Fruitvale is part of a wood stove exchange program, an initiative which replaces old inefficient stoves with new high-efficiency wood stoves, proven to reduce emissions by up to 70 per cent.

And when Hart first presented council with a package of information which included clean air policies from the Canadian Lung Association (CLA) and Families for Clean Air and Clean Air Revival, she was clear that her request was to ban campfires only.

“Fruitvale is taking action to reduce the harmful effects of wood smoke, she said.

“But choosing to keeping residents happy by allowing bonfires comes as a consequence to others,” she said. “And those consequences are negative health effects.

“I just don’t get it.”

According to the CLA, wood smoke can depress immune system activity, damage the layer of cells that protect and cleanse the airways, and disrupt cell membranes and enzyme levels.

The health effects of wood smoke exposure include increased respiratory symptoms, increased hospital admissions for lower respiratory infections, exacerbation of asthma, and decreased breathing ability. Young children, the elderly, and people with pre-existing cardiopulmonary disease are most likely to be affected, however the harmful pollutants associated with wood smoke can directly impact on the health of otherwise healthy people.

Hart said that she will continue with her cause to ban open burning fires, and is considering starting a petition.

“I am sure there is at least 25 per cent of residents who are experiencing ill health effects from backyard fires, so I am going to pursue this further.”

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