Fire safety, and rules for your backyard!

There is nothing like sitting in front of a fire on a warm summer night.  This summer you may sense the faint smell of wood burning in your neighbourhood.  Though, before you light your fire, there are some things you should know about the  by-laws in Burlington.

For all intents and purposes, open air fires outside of the designated area are not allowed.  Within the designated areas, a permit is required or an open air fire.  An open air fire is defined as fire that burns outside of a building; if any local enforcement officers suspect that it is in violation of the local by-law, they can force the owner of the property to put it out.

The by-law in Burlington defines the permit area as north of Dundas Street from the municipal boundary of Hamilton to the 407 exit on Dundas, where the boundary then moves to everything north of the 407.  There is another area in the western end of the city, north of the 403 from Waterdown Road to Highway 6. Residents within this area may apply for a yearly permit on-line here. On the application form the location of the burn site must be specified.

There is a by-law in place in the city, as enforced by the Ontario Fire Code, that can result in a hefty fine if it is not adhered to; for more about it click here.

Outside of the permit area in Burlington, there are exceptions to the prohibited open air burning.  Small, controlled fires used for cooking are allowed.  However, they must not be left unattended while the cooking is going on.  Once the cooking is done, the fire must be extinguished.

For any residents who are concerned about fires in their neighbourhood, they are asked to call 905-637-8253.  They will need to provide information to responders about the location of the fire as well as providing a number they can be reached at; residents are asked to make this call while they know the fire is still burning.

Now that I’ve told you all of the rules and the reasons that you shouldn’t have a fire this summer and you still want to, here are a few tips for keeping it safe, and keeping things civil with your neighbours.

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Cooking on open air pits is permitted so long as it is attended to at all times

First of all the best thing you can do is talk to them!  If you’re planning on purchasing a fire pit or chiminea, talk to your neighbours and ask if they’re okay with it.  If they are not, for whatever reasons, don’t buy one!  You can get in a lot of trouble if your neighbour calls you on it.

Second, understand how to build a safe, controlled fire.  An outdoor fire pit is not the place for a bonfire.  Typically, when you are at a campground the pit is on the ground in the damp soil, typically with sand in it, as a way to keep things under control.  If you’re new to fire building, don’t rush things.  I know that the simple solution to a fire that won’t start is pouring some sort of gas or ignition fluid.  Please don’t do that, I’ve seen the end result and it’s not pretty.  To start building your fire, you’ll need four things: some sort of paper or cardboard (newspaper is my first choice), small pieces of wood (kindling), larger pieces of wood (these are the ones that keep it going), and of course a lighter.

There are several ways to build fires but the way I have found so successful is to build a teepee.  Place your paper in the middle with some small pieces of wood on top.  Then create your teepee using kindling.  Do not add any larger pieces until the fire gets going.  When you light your fire, light the paper in a few places so that it has multiple opportunities to catch.  Once things are going, add some of the bigger pieces to keep it going.  Be careful not to add too much as the fire can get to large.

The third and most important tip is to remember to be safe! Always have a way to put the fire out close by.  A garden hose, bucket of water, or the lid that comes with some fire pits are excellent things to have on hand.  While the fire is going, do not leave it unattended. When it’s time to call it a night, make sure you put your fire out completely.  Any embers still burning can re-ignite the wood and cause a problem. Due to most backyards being open, wind can be a problem. Be careful if it’s a windy night, sitting around a big fire can get a little too hot for comfort!

Hopefully these tips help!

About the Author James Gike