Vancouver Campfire Project proposes fire pits on beaches

Students’ idea ignites opposition from fire department

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      Although outdoor fires fuelled by wood are illegal in Vancouver, a group of students is starting a “public conversation” about changing this on the city’s shores. The Vancouver Campfire Project proposes the introduction of designated fire pits on local beaches.

      Robert Morton, a global resource systems student at the University of British Columbia, told the Georgia Straight that Calgary, Edmonton, San Francisco, and Seattle all have public fire pits at parks or beaches.

      “It’s not a crazy idea,” Morton said in an interview at the Yaletown Farmers Market. “We’re not trying to do something that’s never happened before. These cities are already all doing it. Why can’t Vancouver also do this in a controlled, safe way?”

      Hatched at CityStudio, an “innovation hub” that brings together students and city staff, the Campfire Project has submitted to city hall a plan for a summer pilot program involving one fire pit at Jericho Beach. Ultimately, Morton—along with Stuart Dow and Peggy Wong, geography students at Simon Fraser University and UBC, respectively—envisions anywhere from four to 12 fire pits being installed at Jericho, Locarno, Spanish Banks West, and Third beaches.

      With a $500 NeighbourMaker grant from the Museum of Vancouver, the Campfire Project staged two events last week to raise awareness of its proposal. Morton and Wong noted that the fire pits would be “bring your own wood”, ringed by river rocks, and located on sand with no seating. They would be situated at least 300 metres from the closest home, have washrooms in the vicinity, and be visible from the nearest road. Signage would outline the relevant regulations and make it clear the fire pits are communal.

      “The whole point is that they’re shared,” Wong told the Straight at the farmers market. “The idea is that people will just come and have firewood, and then other people will come and join.”

      Last week, the Vancouver Campfire Project held two events to raise awareness of its proposal.
      Ryan Carmichael

      Aaron Jasper, chair of the Vancouver park board, said he’s interested in hearing more about the proposal.

      “But I am also cognizant of just how careful we are as a city, park board, fire department, and how much effort we put into informing the public of fire hazards,” Jasper told the Straight by phone.

      According to Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services spokesperson Gabe Roder, the fire department opposes the proposal. He told the Straight that anyone caught lighting an illegal fire can be fined $500 to $10,000.

      “First of all, we’re dealing with, in these situations, not just the danger of the fire and the possible spread of the fire, but these things also accompany noise complaints,” Roder said by phone. “They often accompany partying. They often accompany lots of other issues that are attached to having a big bonfire or a big type of fire in a public area.”

      The Vancouver Campfire Project held its Campfire Stories event outside the Museum of Vancouver on May 10.
      William Selviz

      On May 8, visitors to the project’s Campfire Booth at the farmers market experienced a simulated fire consisting of string lights, tissue paper, and firewood. After eating a s’more in the booth—housed in Tin Can Studio’s trailer—East Vancouver resident Steph Troughton called the proposal a “brilliant idea”.

      “I think it would be a great tourist attraction,” Troughton told the Straight. “I think that would really appeal to people who come to the city for the outdoors. The fact that they’ve pointed out that other cities already allow it—I think we’re just a bit behind, and we should catch up to the other municipalities.”

      Morton encourages supporters of the proposal to like the project’s Facebook page and wear a flame-shaped “campfire badge”.

      “People are polite in Vancouver, but our interactions are cordial,” Morton said. “Basically, the idea of the project is to get people actually talking to each other in a really easy way that we’ve doing for a million and a half years.”

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      May 14, 2014 at 9:55am

      What a terrible idea. California is closing all their fire pits on their beaches because of the pollution, and we're opening some? Ridiculous Just what everyone DOESN'T want, smoke wafting into their yards on a hazy hot summer night. NO THANKS!!!!!


      May 14, 2014 at 10:30am

      Won't be anything 'communal' about a party of 12 or 20, all drunk, stoned and TOGETHER, sharing anything with anyone that 'didn't bring their own fucking firewood'.

      ... are small gas BBQs and hibachis illegal or something?

      It's an idea that should have been killed at the vetting process.
      Makes you wonder how bad were the other ideas?


      May 14, 2014 at 10:36am

      bad idea, open fires are the worst type of pollution out there.


      May 14, 2014 at 11:59am

      These fires would be a nusance. The air is the common property of all, and fires of this sort are no longer necessary. Polluting my air is unseemly.


      May 14, 2014 at 12:14pm

      Obviously these people have never walked across a Seattle beach barefoot? You end up with black feet because the soot gets out of the pit and raked all over. Oh, and the discarded bottles thrown into the fire (because at the end of the evening thats what happens), these usually explode sending shards of glass all over. Always great to find those in the sand!

      John Smith

      May 14, 2014 at 12:57pm

      Wow, these comments epitomize the attitude of "no-fun city" that Vancouver is so often given. In California and Seattle they attempted to remove the public fire pits due to air quality concerns but were unable to do so because of public outcry - the fire pits were so popular with the community that they weren't willing to give them up. I think this is a case of not knowing what we're missing. If we are really serious about tackling air quality issues why not focus on reducing automobile dependence instead. Honestly, a few campfires would be drops in the ocean compared to all the other local sources of air pollution.


      May 14, 2014 at 1:31pm

      I have to agree with John on this one. I really hope all of you talking about air pollution ride bikes everywhere you go because otherwise the comments are hypocritical. This is a great idea that will bring people together. Sure there will be a few individuals that aren't very responsible, but i feel that the majority of people will be. Its time to loosen up a bit Vancouver.

      Jane Doe

      May 14, 2014 at 2:01pm

      All the negativity completely ignores the point of the project which is to bring friends family and stranger together over a fire and make connections, tell stories and bring people together . Fire pits work well in other cities and are not dominated by people looking to party - guess what? Those people will find places to party and leave their bottles regardless . I certainly don't think intermittent fires held in pits in the summer amounts to the continuous pollution from all the cars being driven by the naysayers .
      Why knock an idea before you've tried it ?

      @John Smith

      May 14, 2014 at 2:42pm

      Hog broth. Because there are other sources of pollution, it is OK to pollute even more? Wood-smoke is not something we need on our beaches. Even if cars pollute more, which they do, this does not mean "just a little bit more" is OK. If anything, it means that we are already stressed to the limit and do not need any more unnecessary particulate matter in the atmosphere.

      Vancouver was way more fun when it was "no fun city." Now it is full of "relax, maaaan" type creeps who think it's OK to pollute, OK to cause nusances and that everyone who is respectful needs to "loosen up."

      If I see a campfire on a beach, I will put it out. Try to stop me. I'll tell you to "relax, maaaaan."

      Mackenzie Cameron

      May 14, 2014 at 3:12pm

      If the proposal goes through, I think it's very important and necessary to have recycling and garbage bins very close to the dedicated pits. Otherwise I have no doubt that people will begin burn their trash and bottles (or what have you). This will be good for the air quality and danger of broken glass.