B.C. Air Quality

Backyard Burning

What is Backyard Burning?

Throughout British Columbia it's been a common practice to burn organic materials we collect when we're gardening or sprucing up the yard, such as tree prunings, leaves, and grass clippings. The small fires we light in a barrel, or right on the ground, don't produce as much smoke as a large slash burn or bonfire; but the problem is that backyard burning takes place right where we live — and breathe. Because we are often caught in the smoke plume before it's been diluted, we're exposed to high concentrations of pollutants.

The smoke from your fire can seriously pollute your neighbourhood's air for several hours. In fact, during periods when the wind is still, the hazardous particles and gases in smoke can accumulate to harmful levels for days. Ironically, backyard burning often occurs during calm weather, when the smoke can't be dispersed — and on the weekend, when many people are out for a "breath of fresh air." Going inside and closing the doors and windows won't protect you, since smoke easily seeps through small cracks and holes.

The nature of the burning itself also contributes to the smoke problem. Often, people burn wet materials or starve the fire of oxygen, producing a very smoky fire. Even worse, they throw in materials like painted wood, plastics and rubber that should never be burned because they release toxic substances.

Outdoor Fireplaces and Chimineas

These same concerns apply to burning wood and other organic material in outdoor fireplaces and chimineas. Their lack of emission-control devices and low chimneys mean that the smoke they produce stays in our neighbourhood, exposing us to high concentrations of the same pollutants found in open backyard burning.

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