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SLRD to weigh options on campfire ban powers

The regional district currently has no bylaws that would allow it to ban campfires in summer
A toasty small campfire.

The Squamish-Lillooet Regional District (SLRD) is exploring its options around campfire bans.

Speaking at the June 26 board meeting, chief administrative officer of the SLRD, Heather Paul, explained the regional district currently doesn't have any tools to enact a ban on campfires at certain times of the year, with enforcement another topic entirely.

In a verbal update to the board, Paul was responding to previous comments and discussion given that member municipalities in the corridor had enacted campfire bans in recent months.

“I specifically bring this up because comments came up from fire departments of municipalities that looked for the regional district's support in also having a fire ban," she said.

“I want to clarify for this table that the regional district technically right now does not have the ability or the power to have a fire ban on all campfires. There are regional districts that do, and they have implemented bylaws giving themselves the ability for that. We currently don’t have the bylaws in place.”

In the last few months, the Resort Municipality of Whistler and the Village of Pemberton have triggered campfire bans within municipal boundaries, while the District of Squamish introduced and then rescinded a ban due to cooler weather in June. As those bans were being enacted, SLRD directors had briefly discussed a ban, but it didn’t go anywhere.

Speaking at the June 26 board meeting, Paul explained there are “two schools of thought for firebans,” with one being it is a provincially regulated area for regional districts, given most land in regional districts is public land.

“The province is preferring people to learn how to backcountry recreate in a responsible way [and for] better understanding how to make and put out fires,” she explained.

On the provincial level, campfires can be, and often are banned in Coastal Fire Centre, which encompasses Coastal B.C. Currently, category 2 and 3 open fires are banned in the centre, but small campfires (category 1) are not. A small campfire is a fire no larger than 0.5 metres tall or across.

The other school of thought as explained by Paul is for the regional district to give itself the powers to enact a ban as other regional districts have, though enforcement is another issue.

“I will say that … should more pressure be on the SLRD to implement our own campfire ban, we currently don’t have the tools," Paul said.

“My recommendation is if we think this is something we will be going forward with next year or the year after, that a motion be that staff come forward with a bylaw to empower us to be able to do that. Whether or not that’s necessary I think is up for debate, perhaps an information report is first required.”

Questions from the board were first about enforcement, though discussion moved towards staff doing some homework and bringing back an information report to the board on what the SLRD could do, if it chose to.

All directors indicated eagerness to get a report back from staff so a more fulsome discussion can be had on options, with the board voting unanimously to that effect.

The timeline for that isn’t known—should the board choose to go down the path of giving the regional district powers to enact a campfire ban in summer, that would take significantly longer, as staff would have to craft a bylaw which would then need to be approved and adopted by the board, making the possibility of the SLRD having and enforcing a campfire ban unlikely for the 2024 season.

As of July 4, the campfire bans in Whistler and Pemberton remain in place, prohibiting campfires within municipal boundaries. The District of Squamish lifted its ban at the end of May and has not re-implemented it. Municipal fire bans are informed by the fire service in their respective communities.