A Saskatoon woman is wants to see an end to open-air burning in the city.
Kaela Tennent, 33, addressed the City of Saskatoon’s Planning, Development and Community Services Committee on Monday.
She said she came to city hall out of concern for her eight-year-old son, Jack, who she said has severe asthma. Tennent said several neigbhours around her home in the Mayfair neighbourhood have taken to having large backyard fires several times a week. She said the smoke is having serious effects on her son’s health.
“The immediate (impact) is significant lung irritation, coughing, eventually choking. He becomes sick to his stomach, pale, with sweating. He cannot move, so just laying on the couch listless. And eventually, he ends up in the emergency room,” she said.
She explained that this wasn’t simply a case of backyard marshmallow roasts with the kids.
“None of these are with families. It is just childless couples who are doing so while drinking for six to eight hours at a time,” she said.
Tennent claimed one man in the community has routinely been having fires so big that smoke billows into her yard from two blocks away. She said the man often has fires going from 9 a.m. to 2 a.m., causing serious distress for her son.
Tennent said she came to council because Saskatoon’s current bylaw on open-air burning doesn’t do enough.
The bylaw is mainly concerned with preventing the spread of uncontrolled fires. As far as nuisance fires, it contains a provision stating any fire “causing unreasonable interference with the use and enjoyment of another person’s property” has to be put out immediately.
Tennent said that doesn’t help when talking to neighbours fails.
“The responses I have received so far include: ‘but I like it,’ and ‘I hate to say ‘I don’t care, but I just don’t care,'” she said of trying to explain her son’s condition to the people having the fires.
From there, Tennent said she started calling the fire department to come out and deal with the issue. But she said that often proved ineffective, as people would simply have another fire going the next night. In other cases, she said one fire would get put out, only to have another one spring up at the house next door.
Tennent said she stopped calling firefighters altogether, due to alleged retaliation from angry neighbours.
“We’ve had six to nine inch rocks thrown at our windows in the middle of the night. Our dog has been poisoned. A significant number of our neighbours glare at us. One of the acts of retribution is for people to have even more fires,” she said.
Tennent said her family owns their home and moving isn’t an option. Besides, she said even if they moved, there’s no guarantee the problem wouldn’t persist in a new neighbourhood. She said she wants council to impose a ban on outdoor burning within city limits.
The move, which would eliminate things like backyard fire pits and chimineas, would bring Saskatoon in line with several larger cities.
Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal all ban outdoor fires in urban areas, generally citing air quality concerns. In those cities, barbecues are still permitted, and there are permits available for fires on special or religious occasions. Other cities like Calgary and Edmonton have restrictions governing the size and location of fire pits on private property. Calgary also requires that all fires be extinguished by 1 a.m.
Jill Hubick, a registered nurse with the Lung Association of Saskatchewan, said wood smoke contains many potential irritants and carcinogens. As such, she said the association would like to see outdoor burning banned in residential areas. She said it’s generally not good enough to simply expect people with lung conditions to remain indoors.
“Smoke doesn’t have any boundaries. Even if you close your windows and close your doors and go inside – it’s going to seep into the individual’s home,” she said.
With one-in-three people in Saskatchewan expected to be affected by a lung condition in their lifetime, Hubick said the issue is big enough that the Lung Association has started a coalition to push for a ban.
Fire Chief Morgan Hackl said the Saskatoon Fire Department will be reviewing the bylaw governing backyard burning this year.