The province has initiated open-burning restrictions in the Cowichan Valley, and all other areas in B.C. considered to be high-smoke sensitivity zones, until April 15.
The Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, in collaboration with provincial public health partners, has issued the restrictions as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.
A press release from the ministry states that no new fires may be initiated in the impacted areas and no additional material may be added to existing fires.
However, small camp fires, no bigger than 0.5 metres high and 0.5 metres wide, are still permitted in these zones.
The ministry said the BC Centre for Disease Control recommended implementing measures to reduce any excess air pollution during the health crisis.
“There is strong evidence that exposure to air pollution increases susceptibility to respiratory viral infections by decreasing immune function,” the press release said.
“Evidence suggests that air pollution from combustion sources is most strongly associated with increased risk of viral infection, particularly vehicle emissions and biomass burning. At this time, the BC Centre for Disease Control strongly recommends that open burning of biomass fuels be restricted in areas with a high or moderate risk of population exposure to the resulting smoke.”
The ministry said the restrictions will be evaluated on a daily basis, and the areas to which they apply may grow or diminish accordingly.
While backyard burning is usually permitted in the Cowichan Valley Regional District’s electoral areas between March 15 and April 15, as well as areas of North Cowichan in limited circumstances, when the venting index is ‘good,’ the CVRD and regional medical health officer asked Valley residents earlier this week not to engage in backyard burning, and limit their use of wood stoves given the respiratory impact of COVID-19.
That request has been greeted with skepticism by many in the region.
North Cowichan Mayor Al Siebring said it’s a fact that the only residents who have an inherent right to burn in the Valley are those with homes that are primarily heated by wood stoves.
“Those most impacted by COVID-19 are those with respiratory issues,” he said.
“People’s right to live supersedes people’s right to burn. Those looking to get rid of wood waste can drop it off at one of the CVRD’s recycling centres.”