Prescribed burning is an important forest management tool—an opportunity for forest owners and land managers to take advantage of the season’s cooler temperatures and wetter conditions to manage wildfire fuels and minimize the risks of uncontrolled fire during hotter times of the year.
Prescribed burning also:
- improves forest health;
- increases reforestation success;
- and creates and maintains important wildlife habitats.
Unfortunately, where there’s fire, there’s smoke, potentially lots of smoke. As responsible stewards of B.C.’s managed forest lands, it’s important to be educated and informed about the regulations and processes in place to minimize disturbances and ensure the health and safety of communities.
1. Be aware of the laws and regulations that apply to your area.
At the provincial level, you need to obtain a burn number before you can burn.
The easiest way to get a burn number is to call the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations’ open burning registration line at 1-888-797-1717.
If you’ve never registered before, you’ll need to provide a legal description of your land (found on your property papers) and the number of piles you plan to burn. Once the ministry staff locates your land on the map, they’ll provide you with a registration number.
Generally, the registration period lasts two weeks. Next time you plan to burn, call the open burning registration number again, provide them with your burn number and they’ll renew the same number for future burns.
You also need to follow the Open Burning Smoke Control Regulation.
The following excerpt from the Ministry of Environment’s website highlights what the regulation requires of you:
- Explore all possible options to reduce, reuse or recycle as much of the material as possible.
- Burn only vegetative matter such as tree stumps, roots, shrubs, branches, etc.
- Only burn material gathered on site, do not include material from offsite.
- Do not burn prohibited materials, or substances that emit dense smoke or noxious odours.
- The material you burn must be more than 100 metres from a neighbouring residence or business and more than 500 metres from a hospital, continuing care facility or school in session.
- Make sure smoke does not pose a visibility hazard at airports or highways.
- Ensure that the Venting Index is “good” on the day you start the burn and forecast to be “good” or “fair” on the following day.
- Have adequate equipment and staff available to satisfactorily control and feed the fire and ensure regulatory limits are met.
- Follow the additional restrictions that depend on whether the site is in an area that falls under Category A or Category B.
2. Have good relationships with your local council and fire department.
If your managed forest land falls within a municipal boundary you need to be aware that municipalities may have additional expectations and you need to be informed about what those expectations are.
Local representatives are often confused or uninformed about the distinction between municipal laws and provincial laws. To avoid complications, it’s wise to have a conversation with your local council to make sure they’re familiar with provincial regulations that apply to burning on private managed forest land.
Similarly, it’s a good idea to contact your municipal fire department, before you start burning, and let them know what your plans are. Municipal fire departments receive the majority of complaints about smoke, but they’re not always familiar with provincial regulations. This simple gesture will go a long way to help minimize confusion, improve relationships and ensure your burn plans go smoothly.
3. Communicate with your neighbours.
Communication is key to minimizing complaints, complication and stress. Educate your neighbours about what your plans are. Be specific. Let them know what timeframe you’re planning to burn, in what areas, why you’re burning and what they can expect. Educating your neighbours, communicating with your local council and informing your municipal fire department about your plans are critical steps to being a good neighbour and minimizing disturbances to the community.
4. Minimize the amount of smoke you generate.
Smoke can be a serious irritant—coughing, asthma, aggravation of lung and heart problems—that poses a significant risk to the health, quality of life and well-being of some community members. Along with health concerns, smoke also poses safety risks by limiting visibility on roadways and air travel.
Minimizing the amount of smoke your burn operation generates is critical to maintaining the health and safety of neighbouring communities. Here are a couple of strategies to help accomplish this:
- Educate yourself about venting indexes. Wind speeds and temperature inversions affect how smoke moves (or doesn’t move). Check the venting index before you burn and only burn on days when the index is “good” and forecast to be “good” the following day as well.
- The wetter the wood you burn, the more smoke you create. Only burn material that is seasoned or dried out. One practice to help facilitate drying is to cover your brush piles with tarps or lumber wrap. Stacking your burn piles in beehive shaped structures also hastens the drying process.
5. Reminder: Burn piles are stacks of unmarketable materials.
It’s important for people to know that forest owners don’t use prescribe burns simply because we like bonfires. In fact, we go to great lengths to find viable markets for all our materials before they end up in a burn pile. We strive to get every merchantable piece of fibre we can out of the tree—we offer wood to firewood merchants, we provide salvage permits and we sell firewood directly. If you see woody material in a burn pile, it’s because we were unsuccessful in finding a buyer.