Fire pits will continue to be allowed in Red Deer backyards. (Image from

WATCH: Smoke from backyard firepits does not greatly impact Red Deer’s air quality

Who determines if a fire pit is a “nuisance,” councillors wonder

It will be OK to toast marshmallows and socialize around backyard firepits this spring and summer.

The results are in – and firepits do not cause a significant air pollution problem in Red Deer.

While the smoke from backyard firepits contributes towards fine air particulates, it is not a key component of the particulate matter in Red Deer’s atmosphere, city council was told Monday.

City Council had asked administration to explore the impact of backyard firepits after receiving a handful of concerns from city residents since 2012 about potential health impacts.

Red Deer’s Deputy Fire Chief Bart Rowland reviewed the matter and concluded Red Deer’s existing bylaws are adequate.

Rowland found no evidence local firepits were a health hazard or significant contributor to poor air quality in the city.

He also found no serious fire prevention-related issues, providing the firepits were installed as per city regulations – that is, at least three metres away from structures and sitting on a non-flammable surface.

The local bylaw allows the city to ban firepit use when forest fires smoke is already lowering air quality, said Rowland. He recommended administration develop the air quality thresholds that would entail a fire ban.

Councillors Tanya Handley and Michael Dawe questioned wording in the bylaw that states enforcement officers would order a fire be extinguished if it was deemed a “nuisance.”

That’s subjective, said Handley, who wondered whose definition enforcement officers would accept — the complainant or the property owner? Dawe also felt the lack of clarity would put enforcement officers in an “awkward spot,” in having to decide what’s permissible and what’s not?

If a complaint is received, city bylaw officers first attempt to resolve the problem, said Rowland. Maybe the homeowner is using green wood to fuel the fire, which smokes more than dried older wood?

If no resolution can be reached, and someone’s health is being impacted, the officer will ask the backyard fire be put out, he added.

“It’s all about being good neighbours,” suggested Coun. Ken Johnston, who voted with the majority on council to stick with the existing firepits bylaw. “Fires are a social magnet. That’s where we share stories” and connect, he added.

Coun. Vesna Higham felt it was good to review the topic, since a growing number of people have sensitivities to smoke. “We have to balance various interests in the community.”

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