Richard George purchased his rural burning permit from the Township for April seasonal burning. Fire department spokesman Bruce Ferguson said the Township will be taking a zero tolerance approach to anyone burning without a permit this year and will be handing out fines.

Richard George purchased his rural burning permit from the Township for April seasonal burning. Fire department spokesman Bruce Ferguson said the Township will be taking a zero tolerance approach to anyone burning without a permit this year and will be handing out fines.

Burning season strikes a balance

When it comes to land clearing and yard cleaning, burning is the cheapest way to get rid of unwanted trees, branches, and other natural debris. But what’s good for the pocketbook is not always great for the environment, or for people’s health.

That’s why the Township of Langley Fire Department is trying to strike a balance by holding burning seasons during specific times of the year, issuing burning permits, and relying on the cooperation of Mother Nature – and the common sense of those doing the burning.

“We don’t want to be prohibitive,” said assistant chief Pat Walker, “but we also need to be safe and fair. We don’t want people to abuse it.”

While many municipalities have banned outdoor burning altogether, the Township is home to many rural areas. There is often a need to get rid of vegetation, whether yards are being cleaned up in the spring or fall, or trees are being cleared to make room for buildings. The Fire Department knows that renting a chipper – a greener way to dispose of vegetation – can cost thousands of dollars per day, but it also recognizes the Township’s population is growing, and those who live here don’t want to suffer with smoke.

“We don’t want to inundate the air with particulates,” Walker said, as many people are sensitive to the small particles of pollution smoke produces. “We are also trying to reduce our carbon footprint and be environmentally responsible.”

As a compromise, burning seasons are held only twice a year. The spring session will run April 1 to 30, and those who want to participate must purchase a burning permit from the Township’s Civic Facility, Fire Hall 6 in Murrayville, the Operations Centre, or at the Aldergrove, W.C. Blair, Walnut Grove, or Willoughby Community Centres.

For those doing yard and garden clean up, incidental outdoor burning permits are $20, and are only available for properties half an acre or larger. Permits are not issued for the urban areas of Aldergrove, Brookswood, Fort Langley, Murrayville, Walnut Grove, and Willoughby. When a permit is purchased, Township staff will check the address to see if the land is within the allowed burning area, to ensure there is enough separation between properties and that no fire risk is posed to others nearby. Yard clean up fires must be out by dusk.

Land clearing burning permits are $100. They can only be issued by Fire Hall 6 in Murrayville, and only for properties larger than 4.2 acres.

However, “Just because you have a land clearing permit doesn’t mean you can go ahead and burn,” Walker said, as a number of requirements must be met. Before starting a land clearing fire, permit holders must check Metro Vancouver’s air index. If wind and air conditions are not favourable, burning will not be allowed. Only material indigenous to the property can be burned, and less expensive incidental permits cannot be used for land clearing. As well, a 15-day break must occur between each 72-hour burning period.

Permit sales start the last week of March and Walker recommends that those who want to burn start preparing now. All the required information is on the back of the permit, and comprehensive instructions, burning guidelines, and safety tips are featured in a pamphlet that is available at all facilities where burning permits are sold.

The process is not complicated, Walker said, and the guidelines and rules are in place to protect life, property, and the environment.  If those rules are violated, fire officials can act in response to complaints to revoke permits and issue tickets and fines. In 2010, 228 burning violation tickets were issued. In the first two months of this year, 20 tickets were issued to those burning outside the designated season.

For more information, call the Fire Department at 604-532-7500.