Close up photography of bonfire on beach sand
Photo Credit: Roman Pohorecki

Tofino says Bon Voyage to Beach Fires

Beach fires now restricted to portable, clean-burning, or reduced smoke appliances

Tofino tackles excessive beach fire burning

Beaches and campfires often go hand-in-hand. However, burning driftwood for beach fires may soon be a thing of the past in Tofino.

Despite COVID-19, last summer was a heavy one for tourist traffic in this popular West Coast destination. As a result, beaches like McKenzie and Chesterman were busier than ever. Unfortunately, there was also an increase in beach fires leading to frequent complaints about excessive fires, heavy smoke and burnt driftwood.

In response, last fall, the District of Tofino councillors considered an outright beach fire ban. However, the idea was met with a firestorm of community pushback. So, the council came up with a novel compromise proposing a bylaw restricting beach fires to portable, clean-burning, or reduced smoke appliances.

It passed 3rd reading in the council chambers on April 26 and got final approval in May.

The new bylaw proposes $200 fines for non-compliance and shortening the permitted beach fire window from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. to 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Beach fires are currently permitted at Mackenzie Beach and Chesterman Beach. However, the new restrictions are not expected to lift the current prohibitions at other beaches like Tonquin and Cox Bay.

Brent Baker, the district’s fire chief and manager of protective services, said signage will be installed. In addition, the District will launch an educational campaign to bring beachgoers up to speed on the appliance mandate and permitted times.

“While many of the communities on Vancouver Island have chosen to go with a complete prohibition of beach fires, staff are optimistic that visitors and residents will see these changes as a compromise in reducing the health and environmental concerns without sacrificing the experience of the coastal beach fire,” Baker said.

Baker said he is reaching out to local accommodations and suggested some are considering purchasing appliances to rent out.

However, not all residents are on board.

Dennis Pilarinos lives on Chesterman Beach and said he is well aware of beach fires’ impacts. “I live with the noise and pollution on a daily basis, and I also clean up the area of the beach in front of my home on a regular basis. I am completely OK with doing that because of the benefit that I think it actually provides to the community,” he said.

Pilarinos also questioned whether the district had considered the possibility that the appliance mandate will prevent residents unable to afford one from participating in beach fires.

Coun. Jacky Challenger shares Pilarinos’ concerns about the cost of the appliances, but supported the move.“I hope we can recognize that this is a compromise,” she said. “I love beach fires too, so in a perfect world, we’d be able to have them. I think we just need to recognize that we live in a town where it’s not sustainable to continue in the way that we have been.”