PENTICTON - The kind of smoke that comes from burning wet leaves and brush might be harmful to your health and the health of neighbours in the valley, but it may not be clear which days are best for burning because of how that information is distributed in the south Okanagan.
With warm February weather and lack of snow seducing area residents to venture into yards and gardens early this year, the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen issued an information release earlier this week advising residents not to burn wet leaves and brush. In many cases the early yard and orchard clean up has resulted in some residents lighting their burn piles earlier than normal, before the orchard cuttings and yard debris has had an opportunity to dry out.
The regional district is concerned about negative health effects caused by soot and fine particulates that emanate from wet burn piles, noting the Okanagan and Similkameen valleys sometimes act as smoke traps, causing a buildup of particulates that can create health problems, especially for the young and old. Burning will continue to take place however because many owners of large lots and acreages find it the most efficient way of dealing with yard and acreage waste.
The regional district’s current burning bylaw only applies within the boundaries of the fire protection areas of Kaleden, Naramata, Okanagan Falls, Tulameen and Willowbrook. Several years ago, the regional district board considered the establishment of a regional burning bylaw, but there was insufficient political will at the time to move it forward.
“It’s all about being a good neighbour, and doing one’s best to avoid burning on bad venting days,” said RDOS Emergency Services Supervisor Dale Kronebusch, noting within the regional district itself there are different jurisdictions and various lines of authority with respect to burning regulations.
“In the Similkameen, for instance, they get their burning index from Penticton, which may not have the same weather conditions. There aren’t enough locations nearby from which to get that information,” Kronebusch said.
In rural areas surrounding Penticton, the venting index is provided as part of the region’s 911 dispatch service, originating from Kelowna.
Some jurisdictions, like rural Oliver and rural areas of the Similkameen do not have burning bylaws, relying on Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Forests to regulate outdoor burning.
Kronebusch said he doesn’t believe the number of burn permits are increasing on an annual basis, but it’s possible there is more burning in unregulated areas.
Kaleden Fire Chief Darlene Bailey said the department issued 40 burn permits last year, and 12 to date in 2015.
“Burning hasn’t been a big issue here, but we did respond to eight complaints last year,” she said, adding she often hears of burning complaints from neighbouring residences, after the fact.
“People sometimes burn in the community on poor venting days here, but have the right to do so because the venting index said it was permissible. But that index comes from Kelowna, which may not be right for conditions here,” Bailey said.
The regional district advises residents to dispose of leaves and green brush through the curbside yard waste collections, which will take place in most of the regional district in March. Residents are allowed to place an unlimited amount of leaves and brush in paper yard bags or in reusable containers. Landfills within the regional district will also take up to 500 kg of compostable yard waste per trip.
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