Koyo Yoshida, 18 (left), Erick Montiel, 18, and staff person Chelsea Shepherd roast marshmallows and eat s'mores next to the fire pit in the courtyard of Cedar Hall, a new student apartment complex at EvCC.  (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Vernon sparks idea of fire pits in Polson Park

With COVID-19 restrictions keeping people cooped up, propane fire use proposed

Efforts are underway to take the chill out of COVID-19 restrictions by allowing families to gather around a fire in Polson Park.

Coun. Scott Anderson is pushing for the use of propane fire pits between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. in the park.

“This is for winter where everybody is going to be stuck inside,” said Anderson. “The next few months where people are cooped up in their houses.”

Meant to be under the provincial health order, the idea is to give households something to do this winter.

“You can’t have a pit and have 100 people come,” Anderson said, as the PHO currently prohibits social gatherings until Jan. 8, 2021.

But the plan has come up against some regulations with bylaws restricting use, as well as safety concerns.

Fires, including propane fires, in public places are currently prohibited (but are permitted in private spaces).

There are also liabilities, and safety concerns, with using the devices.

“I have seen them malfunction in the high pressure valve,” Vernon Fire Chief David Lind said. “We have had, in Vernon, propane devices fail on decks causing structure fires so they’re not without risk.”

Anderson contests: “There’s a risk in anything, there’s a risk to getting into your car everyday.”

Fellow Coun. Brian Quiring likes the idea and doesn’t see any greater danger in using an approved propane fire pit to using a propane barbecue, which is not prohibited.

“If we allow barbecues then this just seems simple,” Quiring said. “You can use a propane fire pit during fire bans.”

During a time when people don’t have a lot of options to get out and do things, Coun. Kari Gares praised Anderson for his out-of-the-box idea.

“I think it is important that we try unique ways in helping out our community,” Gares said.

Anderson got the idea from the City of Calgary, which permits actual fire pits and even provided free firewood.

“They seem to be managing it, they are a community of one million people so I’m sure a little community of 50,000 people can do it very well,” Coun. Akbal Mund said.

Anderson would like to see some changes to bylaws expedited so the fire pits could be permitted for use this winter. It was even suggested that bylaw officials not enforce the fire pit prohibition in the meantime.

“We are not encouraging folks to use them,” Vernon’s chief administrative office Will Pearce said.

Staff will be reporting back to council at it’s next meeting with a potential plan.

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