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.”
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.”
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.”