When my kids were young, we camped every summer at either Manning Park, Cultus, Chain or Kawkawa Lakes for a week. My wife, who did not grow up camping, hated most of it because it was too much work. Even though we shared our parental responsibilities, setting up a tent, sleeping on air mattresses, cooking on propane stoves, cleaning, and be forced to use smelly outhouses were other reasons she cited for preferring a hotel with a pool or beach over a small clearing in the woods.
I, on the other hand, loved it. So did our children. Aside from hiking, fishing, swimming, carving hiking sticks, and eating, the highlight of our time together was over the evening campfire where we sat around swapping stories, burning wieners and occasionally making s’mores. The open fire-pit was central to our camping experience. It was where we set up operations, gathered after a day of activities, and huddled to keep us warm on many cool nights.
However, unlike those days when burning wood wasn’t an issue, open campfires have been banned in certain regions or all of BC for parts of recent summers, largely due to the hot, dry weather conditions and risk of sparks emanating from unattended fires or ones that haven’t been properly extinguished. Even so, there are many campers and residents asking if it’s really necessary to forbid campfires despite the elevated drought conditions in the Rocky Mountain trench, Cariboo, South Thompson, Okanagan, and Peace regions.
Some folks in government and even in the tourism industry strongly believe that BC should permanently ban all open campfires from late spring until early fall (essentially prime camping season) regardless of the weather conditions. Make it a regulation once and for all. No annual evaluation or debate necessary. Get on with it.
But not so fast say others. Last week in TIABC’s One Minute Monitor, we asked members whether such a move is necessary. While 64% of respondents suggested it was a good idea, the rationale many shared when asked to explain their vote was even more illuminating.
Some offered that no campfire is worth BC blanketed in smoke for an entire summer. Others said a province-wide prohibition is not necessary if the risk conditions in a region are negligible. In other words, apply regulations if and when necessary but otherwise leave well enough alone. Moreover, a few pointed out that campfires are a major component of camping and that education and better care are what’s needed instead of an outright ban. To be sure, there is no easy answer or approach but let’s consider what provincial data tell us before making a decision.
In 2022, 68% of wildfires were caused by lightening while 31% were human caused from discarded cigarettes, arson, campfires and other situations. So while a third could technically be prevented, it’s important to point out there is no research that breaks down how many fires were actually triggered by wood burning campfires.
At our last Policy Committee meeting, we had a short debate on which position to take – for or against a fire ban – but did not decide one way or the other. However, now that we have further insight and feedback from members, as well as the BC Fire Service, we’ll revisit the issue again with a goal to ultimately share our policy or insights with government.
Furthermore, I’ll be pressing my colleagues on the Tourism Emergency Management Committee to do the same as we prepare, mitigate and help with tourism recovery efforts now that a number of wildfires are already burning around BC.
Although my days of pitching a tent and chopping wood are behind me, I’ll continue to use the propane-powered fire pit on my backyard deck to gather with family and friends over a glass of wine. With the small forest behind the house as a backdrop, it feels like the bygone days of camping with the kids, albeit with all the modern conveniences of today’s new RVs just steps away. For the record, my wife loves the great outdoors and has learned to love camping too…or more like glamping if truth be known.