People in Saskatoon can continue having backyard fires while council figures out how to balance health concerns with private property rights.
The planning, development and community services committee voted unanimously Monday to have the Saskatoon Fire Department report back on options to limit wood burning in backyard fire pits.
The vote came after passionate pleas from residents for council to outright ban backyard wood fires.
“I have a headache and my eyes are burning,” said Charlotte Garrett, who lives in Caswell Hill. “There are fires every weekend.”
Garrett said as a senior who gardens, smoke from neighbour’s wood fires can be “extremely difficult” for her to handle.
Kaela Tennent, whose complaints to the city sparked the latest fire pit debate, said closing doors and windows didn’t help to keep the smoke from fire pits away from her asthmatic son.
“My son often has to be rushed over to (our friends’) house where the smoke isn’t as severe,” she said, adding her son sees a specialist regularly to deal with the effects of wood smoke.
Councillors were considering a report from the fire department listing four different options for the backyard fire pit bylaw: institute an outright ban, limit the times of day when they can be burned, require permits for backyard pits or don’t change the bylaw at all.
The committee decided to ask the department for another review, this time taking into consideration a Lung Association of Saskatchewan suggestion to allow alternative fuels for burning – such as propane, natural gas or gel bases – but to outlaw wood fires.
Vice President Jennifer May said the association would rather see a complete fire ban, but they understand a compromise has to be found.
“I’m not sure the public is ready for a zero to 100 change,” she said. “It’s really the wood smoke that causes a lot of health issues, so if we can get rid of that it’s the best thing for the community.”
The committee’s request for information also asks the fire department to report back on the nature of the 190 backyard fire complaints in 2016, and to compare Saskatoon’s policies to those of other major cities across Canada.
Debate pits neighbours against each other: Lung association
While the current bylaw mandates “nuisance” fires must be put out immediately, May noted residents with whom she’s spoken are uncomfortable about calling in complaints.
“This is not a discussion that should be solved by neighbours over a fence,” she said. “It causes neighbourhood issues and people get pegged against each other.”
Tennent agreed, saying she’s had to call the fire department “day after day” to have nuisance fires put out.
She’s called so often, Tennent said she doesn’t think some members are taking her seriously anymore.
“They think I’m harassing my neighbours,” she said. “The nuisance clause in these situations has not and cannot protect members of the vulnerable population.”
There is no timeline on when the fire department report will return to council.