Wildfire season is on the horizon, and the BC Wildfire Service has already responded to several small fires in the region. The COVID-19 pandemic has also increased concerns that smoke pollution could make that situation worse, so the B.C. government is now taking steps to keep the air clear, to support public health and ensure that fire crews are able to respond to fires.
As of noon on Thursday, April 16, 2020 most open burning activities (apart from campfires) will be prohibited throughout B.C. in order to reduce the likelihood of human-caused wildfires and lessen the demands on firefighting services. The prohibitions will also reduce the impact of wildfire smoke on air quality and public health during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The restrictions will remain in effect until further notice.
Prohibited burns include Category 2 and 3 open fires; controlled burns; the use of fireworks and sky lanterns; and the use of burn barrels or burn cages of any size or description, except when used for a campfire. A poster explaining the different categories of open burning is available online at www.gov.bc.ca/openfireregs.
Reducing the number of unnecessary, human-caused wildfires this season will help with the strategic deployment of firefighting resources. During the current pandemic, larger open burns pose an unnecessary risk and could detract from wildfire detection and response. The prohibitions coming into effect on April 16 should decrease the number of false alarms, where firefighters respond to a report of smoke, only to find the smoke is coming from a controlled burn and not from a wildfire.
The move will also help keep BC Wildfire Service staff healthy, so that they can continue to respond to fires throughout the 2020 season, and ensure that crews are still available to respond to fires as and when they occur.
The prohibitions support the BC Centre for Disease Control’s recommendation to help reduce excess air pollution in airsheds throughout the province. “There is strong evidence that exposure to air pollution increases susceptibility to respiratory viral infections by decreasing immune function,” the Province said in a statement.
Research backs up the Province’s decision, showing that air quality has an impact on pandemics. During the SARS outbreak in 2002-2004, communities with higher levels of air pollution recorded double the death rate of other communities.
Anyone found in contravention of an open burning prohibition may be issued a violation ticket for $1,150, required to pay an administrative penalty of $10,000 or, if convicted in court, fined up to $100,000 and/or sentenced to one year in jail. If the contravention causes or contributes to a wildfire, the person responsible may be ordered to pay all firefighting and associated costs.
To report a wildfire, unattended campfire, or open burning violation, call 1-800-663-5555 (*5555 on a cellphone). For the latest information on current wildfire activity and air quality advisories, go to http://www.bcwildfire.ca.