Murdoch reignites beach fire talk

Oak Bay councillors opt to back the current beach fire ban

Oak Bay Fire Chief Dave Cockle recommends council stay the course on prohibiting beach fires.

Oak Bay Fire Chief Dave Cockle recommends council stay the course on prohibiting beach fires.

With barely a flicker, beach fires sparked conversation then fizzled in defeat during Oak Bay’s committee of the whole meeting Monday.

Coun. Kevin Murdoch reignited the conversation to revisit council’s philosophical position on outright banning beach fires.

“I was thinking of this in terms of two or three fire pits … down on Willows Beach,” he said.

Fire Chief Dave Cockle was on hand to present the ban history, update council’s information on where beach fires are allowed and offer his recommendation – to stay the course.

Despite a region-wide beach fire ban, the Oak Bay department attends an average of 19 beach fires a year, Cockle said. They also respond to about 34 smoke complaints a year.

“One of the concerns that we have with this is if there is no beach fires within the district and we do choose to go in this direction we’re inviting Oak Bay as a mecca and everyone will come here,” Cockle said, adding it could usurp significant resources.

That could also affect the air quality index and partying on the beach.

“We don’t have a public demand for this,” Cockle said, noting there is a permit process for community or cultural events. “When it’s a significant value to the community to do that we do have that allowance within (the bylaw). We seldom get a phone call now to have a beach fire.”

Cockle also spoke of environmental initiatives, both the burning efficiency of a beach fire and the green spaces available for building fire pits at Willows Beach. Organism protection (sand fleas) as well as significant high tides in December might also limit ability to build infrastructure.

Murdoch said online conversations show families looking for a place to enjoy a beach fire across the region, and the pro and con could be the same – people coming to Oak Bay.

“The biggest issue I saw here is the fact you can’t have a beach fire anywhere in Victoria,” he said. “The idea here is to look at it and … if the cost isn’t prohibitive, I’d be curious to see what it would look like and what the response from the community would be.”

Murdoch’s bid for a quick cost analysis found no support around the table. Decisions made at committee are recommendations to council, which meets Monday, Feb. 27 at 7 p.m. to approve or revisit those recommendations.