Tofino considers banning beach fires

Melissa Renwick, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, October 9, 2020

A burn mark is left on a piece of driftwood on Chesterman Beach in Tofino, on Saturday, Sept, 12. The Dictrict of Tofino is considering banning beach fires to cut down on environmental disturbances. (Melissa Renwick photo)

Tofino, BC — 

After being the subject of debate for years, Tofino is considering a ban on beach fires.

Following an unprecedented summer of tourism in the coastal town, Mayor Josie Osborne and councillor Duncan McMaster brought the motion forward to council on Sept. 28.

Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation Tribal Administrator Saya Masso said that he can understand the rationale and motivation behind it.

As beach fires increase so too does foraging along the shorelines for brush and driftwood, he said.

“It’s a very tough one to manage and I understand the plight the district is facing trying to develop a bylaw for it.”

Tofino councillor Britt Chalmers voted to put the issue to council. It was in a move to continue the engagement process and to get a better sense of the community’s attitudes towards the ban.

Provoking mixed reactions from locals, Tofino resident Ryan Orr was compelled to create an online petition opposing the fire ban. Since it was posted online on Sept. 30, it has garnered over 2,000 signatures, with over 400 from locals, he said.

“I think a lot of local residents enjoy fires and do so responsibly – in many cases leaving the beaches cleaner than when they found them,” he said. “It’s an important part of the social fabric of our community.”

Tofino’s fire chief, Brent Baker, said that beach fires have been an ongoing issue for many years and that this year was largely no different than years past.

“I think there’s a lot of proposals that are being thrown out there,” he said. “None of them are the ultimate solution and none of them are the worst solution. I think the biggest component here is the human factor. It’s not one group of people or another, it’s all of us as a community – that includes visitors and residents.”

The fire chief said that the yearly increase of fires along Tofino’s beaches has led to more people voicing concerns over “the state in which people’s fires are being left.”

He said that many beachgoers are unable to meet either the provincial or municipal requirements for having a beach fire, which includes completely extinguishing the fire with water and packing in your own firewood.

Council will meet again next week to vote on Oct. 13, after considering public feedback.

Chalmers said that staff would work with the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation as a bylaw is created.

“We’re not going to tell our people that they can’t practice their Indigenous title and right within their own traditional territories,” said Terry Dorward, Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks project coordinator. “If that includes having a fire, then we’re going to support our people in their cultural right.”

Entering the meeting with an open mind to determine what is best for the community, Chalmers remains “on the fence.”

“The opposing views are making it hard because I see both sides of it,” she said. “Really understanding what we want to lose – that community life, or the environmental and health aspects. The trade-off between the two is what I’m seeing right now.”