Smokers in Port Coquitlam will have to douse their flames in parks during the summer months or risk a hefty fine, the city announced last week.
In a Committee of Council meeting on June 20, Port Coquitlam outlined their intention to double the cost of smoking fines in parks from June to September.
Any person that is caught littering a cigarette butt, smoking, or open-air burning during those months will be forced to pay a $500 fine.
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In the other eight months of the year, residents can be fined $250 for violating the smoking bylaw.
“An increase in fines provides an additional incentive for people to comply with the bylaw and penalizes those that show a disregard for the rules,” the city wrote in a press release last week.
Folks who smoke through a variety of mediums including cigarettes, cigars, pipes, e-cigarettes and other devices that can be used to burn tobacco and cannabis are subject to a bylaw infraction.
The decision to increase fines for smoking in the summer months comes one year after Coquitlam made a decision to raise fines to $500 in their parks from June to September.
The motion received unanimous support from Port Coquitlam councillors in the June 20 meeting.
In the future, though, Coun. Nancy McCurrach suggested that the city look into mandating smoking restrictions in May, as heat waves in the late-spring become more common.
Specifically, she mentioned that the Fort McMurray wildfire, which displaced 88,000 people from their homes in 2016, occurred in early May.
“Any time [the bylaw] could be moved towards May, it might be something to look at,” she said. “The Fort McMurray wildfire, where I helped out on the phone lines with evacuees… was May 1.”
A heat wave brought 30-degree temperatures in many B.C. communities this May.
The city wrote that the decision to double fines in the summer months came from a desire to reduce fire hazards in Port Coquitlam parks and trails.
Last fall, in nearby Minnekhada Regional Park, a human-caused fire shut down the park and ripped through 14 hectares of land in Coquitlam.
“A wildfire can spread quickly due to dry conditions and high winds and can cause severe environmental and economic impact,” the city wrote. “The bylaw requires smokers to safely put out and dispose of their cigarette (or stop vaping) when entering a park or area of the City where smoking is prohibited.”
Jeff Sweet, deputy fire chief at Port Coquitlam Fire and Rescue, said the bylaw change will hopefully persuade residents to avoid smoking in parks.
“Putting a sign up that says fines double during the summer months, during extreme heat, is designed to be a deterrent,” Sweet said.
He added that the public may not be aware of the risks that come with extinguishing a cigarette in a park.
“There is enough organic material that a fire can spark even in a flower bed,” Sweet said. “It happens more often than people think.”
Port Coquitlam Fire and Rescue will be increasing patrols at many of the city’s parks and trails in the summer to teach residents about fire prevention strategies.
Specifically, Sweet said, the fire department will monitor fire risks and increase education efforts at Gates Park, Lions Park, and Hyde Creek.
But it’s up to the city’s bylaw enforcement personnel to dole out the fines — which normally go to repeat offenders, he said, not people making their first offence.
“We want people to understand the rules and regulations around having an open flame,” Sweet said. “People often don’t realize they can’t bring a barbecue and light it up.”
As of June 28, the province listed the fire risk for Port Coquitlam and the Lower Mainland as “high” — meaning new fires may start easily and extreme caution is advised in any activities in a forest.
Port Coquitlam council unanimously granted first three readings to the bylaw at a meeting on June 27.