Common sense urged around burning on poor ventilation days

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Stagnant air and low winds have made perfect conditions for fog build up in the Gulf Islands, but the fog is not the only thing that is hanging around.

The lack of wind has also affected smoke from brush piles and wood stoves in the area.

Environment Canada’s Ventilation Index is a measure of the atmospheric turbulence and low level winds. It is used to determine how quickly smoke and other air particles are dispersed in a given area. Ventilation Indexes are measured in 25 areas of the province. Though Salt Spring bylaws say that the index is applied only to machine piles, the Salt Spring Island Fire Department recommends using common sense when deciding whether or not to burn smaller hand piles on non-venting days.

“If you’re burning a bunch of wet stuff with neighbours right beside you, it would be better to do it on a day where it’ll vent better,” said Salt Spring Fire Rescue Lt. Ken Akerman. “If you can get a good hot fire going and there’s no smoke then it’s not a problem either . . . We don’t want people burning and smoking out their neighbours.”

The regulations set out by the Venting Index legally apply only to land clearing or machine piles. Burning is only allowed on days where the ventilation category is “Good,” and when the forecast category for the next day is either “Fair” or “Good.” However, the index is also a good indicator of how smoke from smaller fires will act.

“The venting index doesn’t apply to yard burns, it’s only for machine piles,” Akerman said. “We’re complaint driven, so we’re going to go check out the complaints and determine whether we feel it’s a problem or not . . . If that happens we do go check it out and either request for them to put it out or educate them on better ways to do it, no matter if it’s a venting day or a non-venting day. It’s not just about the one person burning, it’s about everybody.”

Although it is not forest fire season, the air quality can still be affected by smoke. On Jan. 14, the Ministry of the Environment and Island Health issued an Air Quality Advisory for the Cowichan Valley due to the conditions. The advisory was lifted on Jan. 15, but burning restrictions remained in place until midnight on the 15th. Air quality is expected to improve later in the week as wetter weather moves into the region. The advisory did not affect Salt Spring or the Gulf Islands.

The Ministry of the Environment recommends disposing of waste through other means before resorting to burning. Recommendations include recycling, composting yard trimmings and mulching woody debris. They also suggest avoiding wet material in both outdoor and indoor fire places, burning only during good venting conditions, and only burning material that has been dried for at least six months.

Information about the current Ventilation Index can be found at the Salt Spring Fire Department website.

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