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Harbour Grace bonfire ignites discussion on regulations

The flames in question from this bonfire could be seen from above the treetops of neighbouring homes.
The flames in question from this bonfire could be seen from above the treetops of neighbouring homes. - Contributed

Talk of possible ban on open fires, piles of debris

Bonfire night is a tradition in Newfoundland and as in past years, it took place on Nov. 5.

But one particular bonfire in the Riverhead area Monday evening was cause for concern. The matter was brought forward in the Harbour Grace town council chambers the following evening.

At a regular meeting of council on Nov. 6 the dangers of the Riverhead fire, that was still burning only hours prior to Tuesday night’s meeting, was discussed.

The issue was initially brought up by Deputy Mayor Sonia Williams, who also acts as council’s fire department liaison.

“There was an incident that happened last night that got out of hand, and I’d like to know why it got out of hand,” she said at the beginning of her report. “There was apparently a pile of garbage, construction material, and stuff that’s not allowed to be burned that was ignited.”

Williams added she had concerns as to why this pile was allowed to be burned, despite being brought to the attention of the town office.

Town manager Michael Saccary explained that the pile of garbage in question was brought to their attention prior to bonfire night, and that it was also of concern for the local fire brigade. Saccary said he had the town’s municipal enforcement officer (MEO) check out the situation.

After some conversations, the MEO reported back to Saccary to explain that the person responsible for the pile had the means to control the fire, including a hose and pump.

“He had some stuff that he had piled there, like all the other bonfire sites did, so there’s nothing that we could really do, other than to just keep an eye on it to see if it causes any problems,” Saccary said during the Nov. 6 meeting. “The fire department went up (Monday night), as well as the enforcement officer, and I was up myself, and it was controlled very well.”

However, Williams went on to state that it was actually the material that was being burned, as well as the possible dangers of the flames, that were of concern to her, noting she had received some photos of the fire earlier that day.

Williams also noted she had been told that the pile to be burned reached upwards of 20 to 25-feet high, and felt as though this pile should not have been burned in the first place, and instead transported to the local dumping station.

“Looking at the pictures of pile of debris that was there, I don’t even think, as a council, we should have allowed it to be there,” added Coun. Kathy Tetford. “I don’t know what specific regulations we have, but I do believe we do have regulations somewhere that would let us stop people from burning things that aren’t safe, and I do feel for anyone that was living in that area, because if the wind changed, it could have ended up a lot worse.”

Tetford went on to express an interest in placing some sort of ban on any open fires of this sort, or any big piles of debris, making specific mention of the possible dangers that could arise from such an occurrence, were it to happen again in the future.

“I’ll add to that and say that let’s hope we’re still lucky tonight, because as of 6:30 this evening, that fire was still burning, so let’s hope when the wind goes up tonight that we’re not all burned out,” added Coun. Lyda Byrne, who questioned if toxins in the smoke from the fire in question posed health issues to people in the area.

Going forward, Mayor Don Coombs suggested that if this was something council wished to look into, they come up with a recommendation to be brought before council in the future. He would also like to review what the current regulations are regarding family bonfires in the community.

The fire was no longer burning as of The Compass deadline.

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