Saturday, May 21, 2022

Council Approves New Open Air Burn By-law

Meaford Council has given initial approval to a new open burn bylaw that is intended to eliminate confusion, and to provide a more user-friendly process for property owners wanting to obtain a permit for an open air burn.

During their March 14 committee of the whole meeting, Council was presented with an extensive report outlining the new bylaw.

The proposed by-law will provide a clearer process, and will require that all persons and (property) owners obtain a permit for an open air burn. There are five defined types of open air burns. In defining different types, the by-law provides specific setbacks based on the size of the open air burn. The resident will have to determine the setback (the distances surrounding the location of the proposed fire). By establishing the setback, residents will be able to determine what size of the fire is permitted, and apply for the appropriate permit,” staff advised.

Staff told council that the current open air burn bylaw, implemented in 2014, requires some general housekeeping updates.

In review of the bylaw, staff believe that the by-law is not clear enough with regard to the types of properties requiring permits, or how different situations should be handled. Individual properties are different, and people do have small open air fires to enjoy in their backyards with their family. However, not all persons or owners conduct open air fires safely and there is a potential risk to persons, properties, and surrounding neighbours,” staff’s report to council noted.

While the current process for obtaining a burn permit is often confusing for property owners, it is also time consuming for staff. The new process will make it possible for residents to obtain burn permits online.

The municipality’s Fire Services and Municipal Enforcement staff have reviewed a third party database program called burnpermits.com. The program is currently being used by several municipalities, and will assist both of the municipality’s Fire Department as well as Municipal Enforcement with a more simplified process.

The new municipal online burn permit system (https://meaford.burnpermits.com) will advise residents of the types of open air burns allowed through a permit process. There will be terms and conditions for each type of burn and the applicant will be guided through the permit process. Fire Services staff noted that there will be an option to obtain burn permits without using the online system for those who either don’t have access to the internet or prefer to obtain the permits manually.

The user will be required to acknowledge the terms and conditions for each burn by completing the permit application, which is key for fire safety,” staff advised Council in their report. “There will be a learning curve for owners, and administration staff will have the manual option to help roll out the program in everyone in obtaining permits. This process will help in decreasing administration staff time as well as on-ground Municipal Officers and Firefighters in providing a clearer understanding of what is permitted and what is not permitted for conducting an open air burn.”

Staff noted that, “the main objectives for regulating open air burns with a permit process is to protect neighbouring properties, ensure the fires are conducted safely, to ensure that residents understand and acknowledge the requirements for open fires, and to limit liability to the Municipality.”

The new by-law proposes that permits be required for all types of open air fires, including backyard fire pits. The introduction of this requirement gives the Municipality the ability to understand how many open air fires exist in the Municipality, and respond to complaints and fire calls more appropriately.

The staff report identified five types of open air burns:

In the proposed By-law, there are five types of open air burns identified, including backyard enjoyment, the clearing of land, agricultural purposes, and demolition.

1. An Outdoor Fireplace is for the enjoyment of a family back yard fire. This type of fire is conducted in a manufactured non-combustible enclosed container such as fire bowls with spark arrestors on top or chimineas, which is not greater than 2.6ft (0.8m) in diameter. No combustibles are allowed within 1.5m (5ft) from the surrounding edge of the approved device and the fire is to be extinguished by midnight. The permit holder is required to accept the terms and conditions, but no review or inspection is required for approval.

There is no requirement for the resident to call in each time they burn.

2. A Fire Pit is a larger diameter open air burn that cannot be greater than 1m (3.2ft) in diameter. The fire pit must be enclosed on all sides and constructed of masonry, concrete, stone, heavy gauge metal or other non-combustible materials. No combustibles are allowed within 3m (10ft) from the surrounding edge of the approved device and the fire is to be extinguished by midnight. The permit holder is required to accept the terms and conditions, but no review or inspection is required for approval. There is no requirement for the resident to call in each time they burn.

3. A Brush Fire means a larger open air fire where the materials to be burned are solely for the purposes of burning wood, tree limbs and branches which helps with lands for development purposes and persons clearing their larger lots. The open air burn cannot be greater than 3m (10ft) in circumference with no combustibles within 6m (20ft) from the surrounding edge of the approved burn in all directions. After accepting the terms and conditions, this type of fire requires a review before the permit is approved. Owners are required to call in to the Municipality before they start burning on each occasion.

4. A Controlled Fire means an open air fire which is used solely for the purpose of burning wood, tree limbs and branches on agriculture farmed lands. The open air burn cannot be greater than 6m (20ft) in circumference and combustibles are not permitted within 15m (50ft) from the edge of the burn in all directions. This type of permit is currently available however, it is granted without seeking informed approval by the Chief Fire Official or designate. After accepting the terms and conditions, this type of fire requires a review before the permit is approved. Owners are required to call in to the Municipality before they start burning on each occasion.

5. A Demolition Fire is an open air burn of a structure or materials that is of only clean, clear wood with no materials that are of household waste as ‘defined’ in the bylaw. A building permit to demolish or construction is required. This type of burn has been conducted however, no notice or inspection has been conducted to ensure all persons and owners are abiding by all of the provisions of the bylaw.

Staff noted that it will be important to fully inform residents of the new burn permit procedures.

An educational roll out will be imperative in ensuring a successful transition of the new regulations and the on-line portal program. During this year, staff will work with the Communication team to provide awareness with the changes and will continue our 4 tier compliance model in enforcement – engage, explain, educate, and then enforce,” staff advised Council.

Members of Council were enthusiastic about the coming changes to municipal burn permits, and approved the proposed bylaw in a 7-0 vote. Final approval of the bylaw will take place at Council’s next meeting.

Initially, as in previous years, there will be no cost for burn permits, though the report to Council notes that should it be desired in the future, a fee structure could be implemented.

The introduction of the permit process gives the Municipality the ability to implement a fee structure for burn permits in the future, if approved by Council. Should that happen, fees would be based on the cost of providing inspections and the online platform,” staff advised.

More information about the new burn permit process will be available on the municipal website (meaford.ca).

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