Clarington to clamp down on residents starting outdoor fires

Fines will be enforced for open-air fires started without a permit

Clarington This Week

CLARINGTON — Fire Chief Gord Weir is warning the fire department is taking a tougher line on residents who set open-air fires, or who allow an open-air fire to burn without a permit.

Campfires and open-air burning is illegal in Clarington, a municipal bylaw regulates who can set open-air fires.  Anyone caught burning illegally, where the fire department is called to attend, will first be given a warning.  On the second offence, a fine of $495.45 per hour for every vehicle in attendance will be charged. Repeat offenders, or for more serious events, will be subject to the courts where individuals can be fined up to $50,000 and directors of businesses up to $100,000 under the Ontario Fire Code. Weir will enforce the regulations immediately and stressed if the fire department was called to a property last year, it will count as an offence.

“If I was at your property last year, and if you continue, we will proceed with the fire code,” said Weir.

Despite the recent wet weather, Weir said his department has already been called to 10 grass fires and seven illegal burns this year.  Last year, his department responded to 139 illegal burns and 64 grass fires.

“Enough is enough,” said the chief. “Up to now, we’ve been generous. It’s time if you’re caught contravening the bylaw, to pay up,“ said Weir.

Grass fires can be caused accidentally, sometimes a spark from a train wheel can cause the railway embankment to catch fire, but other times the fires are started deliberately by residents who are not aware of the municipality’s bylaw, or by a negligent act such as throwing a cigarette butt out of a car window.

Metroland reporter Toby VanWeston experienced first hand the difficulties firefighters face when he put out a small-contained fire with a team from Station 1 in Bowmanville. The mock fire demonstrated how easily a grass fire can take hold. Wearing one of the regulation fire suits, VanWeston tacked the grass fire with a broom and a water tank on his back.

“I was exhausted after five minutes in the suit and the fire I put out was only about five feet long,” said VanWeston. “The thought of putting out a fire 20-feet high is terrifying, and I can’t imagine the energy it would take to do that.”

Weir said grass fires are especially tricky for firefighters to contain. In rural areas, the ground is often soft and fire trucks can get stuck. Firefighters often have to park far from the scene, dispatch an extra utility vehicle and use long hose lines or strap heavy water tanks to their backs and hike back and forth to the pumper vehicle to fight the fire. Consequently, they run the risk of injury by walking on uneven ground.

The fire can spread very quickly over a large area especially if there is a wind.

“The higher the grass, the higher the flames, and for the firefighter, you’ve got a lot more heat and potential to get burned,” said Weir.

Special open-air burning permits cost $81 annually or $40.50 for a 30-day permit. Permits are free for farmers, but they still have to apply. Every application is assessed on a case-by-case basis. Contact the fire department at 905-623-5126 or speak to one of the Fire Prevention staff at Station 1, 2430 Hwy. 2, Bowmanville for more information. The Open Air Bylaw is also available on the municipal web page http://www.clarington.net.

Elsewhere residents should check with their local municipality or Ministry of Natural Resources for burning restrictions and bylaws before burning outside.

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