Portable appliances, like this one perched between Tofino mayor Dan Law and David Schmidt, are now mandatory for anyone wanting to have a beach fire in Tofino. (Photo courtesy of Dan Law)

Fire appliances officially mandatory on Tofino beaches

"We can still have fires, they just have to be in a suitable appliance" says Tofino mayor Dan Law

Portable fire appliances are officially mandatory on Tofino’s beaches.

Council unanimously adopted the controversial new law on May 11 with little discussion, though mayor Dan Law clarified the move did not constitute an outright ban.

“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,” he said.

The law took effect immediately after adoption.

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.

Law first pitched the idea of mandating fire appliances 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 told the Westerly News last week that he was happy to see his idea come to fruition as a fire ban alternative that he hopes 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…It’s a way that residents and visitors can still enjoy beach fires, but we mitigate the negative effects of smoke and garbage and debris,” he said.

“We get to still have fires, which was the goal, and the fires we do have are cleaner, way less smoke, way less debris left over, they’re just great. 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.

“That has definitely come up but, again, the options presented to council and the residents are a complete ban, or this approach. 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. I don’t have that crystal ball, I can’t look into the future, but considering the cost of buying one new and then leaving it on the beach, that’s a bit of a stretch for me.”

He noted the appliance mandate only applies to public beaches and does not affect fires on private property.

andrew.bailey@westerlynews.caLike us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

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