RMOW works to quash illegal pit fires 

New signage, new patrols part of concerted effort from fire, bylaw and RCMP

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Whistler is cracking down on dozens of illegal fire pits this summer in an effort to prevent a forest fire in the municipality.

It's just one of a string of municipal initiatives aimed at protecting Whistler from the threat of a fire spread, and another sign of just how seriously Whistler is treating the potential for forest fire.

Fire Chief Sheila Kirkwood is calling for an "integrated approach" to the pit problem with fire, bylaw and RCMP working hand in hand to target known fire pits that stretch from one end of Whistler to the other.

There will be more signage, more patrols than ever before and less tolerance.

"It's being proactive so we don't have a problem," Kirkwood told council at Tuesday's Committee of the Whole meeting.

It comes on the heels of more municipal steps to reduce fires by creating the first landscape-level break in the Callaghan Valley, and carrying on with tree thinning projects.

The fire chief is looking to the community to help, not just by Fire Smarting their homes, but also by calling to report any potential illegal pit fires.

A letter will be sent to residents who live near the five pits to encourage reporting of fires.

"People need to call us when these fires are occurring, so we can come out and deal with it at that time," said Kirkwood.

She outlined roughly a dozen known fire pits, highlighted on a map, from the Wedge pit outside municipal boundaries to the Emerald pit popular with high school students.

"This is by no means an exhaustive list of the fire pits in the area," she added.

Councillor Duane Jackson, who has children in high school, questioned how to change the culture. "It's this tradition," he said. "How do you break it?"

Kirkwood agreed it's challenging and she is worried that cracking down on the known fire pits creates potential for driving them further into the bush. "That potentially creates a larger problem," she added.

She also highlighted the fact that Whistler has not had any brush fires associated with the illegal fire pits, though the department has responded to fires after the fact that have not been properly extinguished.

Councillor Andrée Janyk questioned how to get people to feel that responsibility about potential fires. "We've got to get the community working with us," she said.

Said bylaw officer Nancy Johnston: "We've been going out fairly regularly and checking on these locations."

She said last year bylaw responded to four calls over the summer. "So far this year we've already had four," she said.

The problem isn't just about fire; there are noise and garbage issues and underage drinking and vandalism.

People can be fined $300 for having a fire; $500 if that fire is during a high or extreme hazard rating. Kirkwood said: "Really, what we want to do is stop it from occurring in the first place."

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