Resident wants tighter burn laws

An asthma attack suffered by a Braun's Island resident in southwest Terrace has caused him to seek a change in open burn laws

This burn pile on Braun's Island is at the root of a dispute that has caused one resident to call for reforms to open burning rules.

An asthma attack suffered by a Braun’s Island resident triggered by smoke from burn piles has resulted in the same man calling for reforms to provincial rules surrounding public burns.

The incident occurred March 20 when the owner of a property beside Charles Claus started to burn large piles of logs and other material cleared from the RV park he owns.

Claus, who suffers from asthma, was concerned about the piles being lit and called in the Thornhill Volunteer Fire Department because Braun’s Island is in the regional district and within the department’s operations area and the provincial environment ministry’s emergency line.

Claus said the island is a traditionally rural/agricultural area with large lots and he said the smoke was coming over the large field separating the properties.

Claus said he awoke with a start after midnight March 20.

“I awoke at about 12:30 and our whole house was full of smoke. I could hardly breathe. I am asthmatic.”

The ensuing attack caused him to go to Mills Memorial Hospital where he stayed for two-and-a-half hours on an oxygen inhaler and was given medication.

Later that day Claus said he called the Thornhill fire department and the environment ministry again and that a fire truck was sent to put out the burn piles.

Conservation officer Ryan Gordon who attended the scene said he did hand out a violation ticket to Braun’s Island RV Park property owner Doug Munsen because of “unfavourable weather conditions.”

Open burning is allowed but based on an index of weather conditions which can prevent the practice.

Munsen, who has owned the RV park since 2005, says he is being targeted by his neighbours and has had to put up with a steady stream of officials from various government agencies.

“We have every time we start up a piece of equipment or dump truck we get a visit from anybody who will listen to somebody,” he said. “We are starting a record to do a harassment thing from all of these guys. Because they fined us we are waiting to get some kind of a court subpoena for all those phone calls. How can this guy completely cause havoc every time?”

Claus said that with regards to debris burning, he thinks that it should be outlawed in neighborhood areas.

“We need a much more up-to-date burning bylaw. If someone has a pile and they are legitimately away from a residence, it’s dry wood, the [weather] index is being followed, I can see that that can happen but none of this stuff should be happening within half a mile of residents.”

He said chipping, mulching, or cutting into firewood are modern alternatives.

But Munsen said he worries that if he fired up a chipper, neighbours would complain about the noise.

Thornhill Volunteer Fire Department chief Rick Boehm agreed that open burning laws need to be looked at.

“We have this problem all over Thornhill and we can’t do anything about it because there are no bylaws,” he said. It might also help that rules on when open burning can take place are clearer, Boehm continued.

As it stands, when someone wants to do open burning of debris, they must obtain a reference number from the environment ministry so that the location can be tracked. That reference number comes with conditions setting out how and under what conditions a burn can be undertaken but they are not listed in an obvious way, Boehm said.