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Fireworks bylaw, but no consequences
When a South Burnaby resident answered a knock at his door last Saturday, what he saw was the last thing he expected.
A neighbour was alerting him that his 10-foot-plus-high cedar hedge was on fire.
"I used a hose to try to extinguish the fire, but the fire is fast and we can't control it, so I called 911," said the resident, Mr. Hsu, who declined to give his first name. "I'm shocked because the fire was very, very big and very fast."
He lives in a duplex at the corner of Burns Street and Gilley Avenue. On Tuesday, the blackened, see-through, skeletal remains of branches were all that was left of a large section of the hedge.
The cause of the blaze, he said, was youths playing with fireworks.
"I heard the sound of fireworks but we think maybe they're far from my house. I never think they're just outside my door."
The fire, which started about 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 19, was visible from a few blocks away, said Diane Gillis, president of the Kingsway-Imperial Neighbourhood Association. "We could see [the flames] shooting up in the air."
Gillis said she called a friend who owns a home across the street from the burning hedge to let them know and they called her back to say it was caused by kids playing with fireworks.
"It could have been much worse if it had been a building," she said.
It's the third such incident in the last few years within a few blocks of her own house and with Halloween around the corner it has Gillis concerned and hoping for rain.
She recalled several years ago being nervous about kids setting off fireworks near her house with its wooden shake roof. For months afterwards, her husband was still finding fireworks pieces on their rooftop.
She urged people to call police if they see people violating Burnaby's fireworks bylaw.
The bylaw limits the sale of fireworks to between Oct. 25 and 31. They're only allowed to be set off on Oct. 31 (unless there's a permit for a special occasion) and only by someone at least 18 years old and on private property where they have the consent of the owner. Once the person is off private property, on the sidewalk for instance, they'll need to get a permit from city hall.
If people see any violations, Burnaby's chief fire prevention officer Greg Mervin said people should call police who can can seize the fireworks if necessary.
Burnaby fire department's efforts are focused this week on the fireworks retailers themselves, Mervin said, to ensure they're following the bylaw. For example, they're not allowed to sell to minors or have more than 100 kg of fireworks on the premises at any one time.
Burnaby RCMP Staff Sgt. Major John Buis confirmed the burning hedge incident and that officers spoke with the youths involved, informing them and their parents of the need for a permit and ensuring they disposed of the fireworks.
"We have seized fireworks in the past, particularly if somebody's health and safety is at risk," Buis said. They are then destroyed.
However, there are limits to enforcement of the bylaw since it does not set out any fines for violations.
Coun. Paul McDonell, a retired firefighter himself, was not aware of the lack of fines, and said the city is in the process of reviewing and updating all its bylaws to remedy such situations.
He planned to raise the issue of a lack of fines in the fireworks bylaw at an upcoming city council meeting.
"There's individuals, especially children, they get injured by fireworks. Some lose their fingers, they just don't understand," McDonell said.
"If you're gonna have a bylaw you've got to have some way of enforcing it."
Last March, council also directed city staff to look into the feasibility of banning the sale of fireworks altogether.
As for Hsu, he considers himself fortunate that the fire didn't spread to his house. He's grateful for the efforts of the firefighters who sprayed water on his roof to make sure that didn't happen, and for the neighbour who warned him.
Hsu hopes to replace his hedge, which provided him with privacy and a buffer from the noise of traffic on Gilley.
On Tuesday, he appeared in a forgiving mood towards the youths who caused the damage.
"Maybe the kids, they never think it will be big trouble. I think they will be shocked too."