COLUMN: This ‘burning issue’ should be snuffed

Surprisingly, while Metro Vancouver is considering regulations to curb the burning of wood in fireplaces and airtight stoves ...

Surprisingly, while Metro Vancouver is considering regulations to curb the burning of wood in fireplaces and airtight stoves, it is actually proceeding cautiously and slowly on any proposal to ban the use of them completely.

What is equally surprising are claims that one-third of the households in Metro Vancouver contain a wood-burning device. Did they count, I wonder, all the high-rise apartments across the Lower Mainland, or all the homes and condos built over the past couple of decades that, if they have a fireplace at all, burn only gas?

If the claim of one-third is accurate, there must be hundreds of thousands of wood-burning stoves and fireplaces throughout Metro Vancouver, yet the district fields only about 90 complaints a year of noxious odours alleged to emanate from said devices.

Thankfully, and sensibly, the Metro board seems to be of the opinion that should a complete ban on wood-burning be imposed, those who already have fireplaces or stoves will be permitted to continue using them.

Which leads me to wonder where all those urban people get their firewood. Surely most do not own a chainsaw, a pickup truck or a convenient forest they can reduce to cord wood. So I sense there is either a great market for enterprising woodsmen, or the issue of wood burning in the urban quarters of Metro Vancouver is somewhat akin to smoke and mirrors.

I’d also have to believe that ‘in the city’ fireplaces are used primarily to add either romance or ambiance to an occasional evening and not used as a principal heating source (see lack of substantial wood supply above).

On the other hand, when you live off the gas grid, as I and many other rural dwellers do, using wood for heat makes economic sense, particularly when the oil-fired furnace gets fewer ‘miles per gallon’ than your average dump truck.

Even then, out here in the ‘suburban wilderness,’ finding an adequate and annual source of firewood is a challenge, not the least of which is the time, tools and effort required to cut it down, split the rounds, stack and store it for six to 12 months to ensure proper seasoning and efficient burnability.

But when the fireplace is crackling away, with waves of heat flowing into the room, there is a definite aesthetic appeal that complements the cost savings. And when you step outside on a crisp fall/winter evening and savour the tang of wood smoke, the pleasure is not only intensified, it conjures warm memories.

So I have to wonder where those 90 complainers in Metro grew up, and what exactly don’t they like about it.

Granted, if every home on the Lower Mainland was continuously belching smoke, there might be some health issues, but according to health authorities wood smoke is not as carcinogenic as the burned diesel most of us breathe every time a truck passes.

However, today most urban homes are not heated by wood, which by the way is carbon neutral for all you environmentalists out there. Burning gas, on the other hand, is not … otherwise the proposed gas-fired SE2 power plant in Sumas, Washington would be going strong today.

That was a battle worth fighting, but must every complaint or concern warrant punitive action on the part of regional districts and city councils?

Perhaps Langley City councillor and vice-chair of Metro’s environment and parks committee, Gayle Martin, said it best:

“Look at wood smoke compared to vehicles. Do you plan on banning vehicles? Are we going to ban something every time we get a complaint?”

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