Fireworks light up the night sky to mark the beginning of 2024 in Canmore at Millennium Park on Monday (Jan. 1). Matthew Thompson/Rocky Mountain Outlook File Photo

The Town of Canmore is reigniting debate on fireworks after illegal “rogue” fireworks were set off in the community on New Year’s Eve and with current drought conditions across the province.

Council directed municipal staff to return by its June 4 meeting to explore alternatives to fireworks that have less potential impact on environment, wildlife, pets and people.

“When you live in a valley full of trees, at a time of drought especially, and when wildfires are abounding as we have seen over recent years due to changes in climate, temperatures and weather patterns, we really have to be on top of somebody that’s purposefully setting off something that’s ignited into our environment,” said Mayor Sean Krausert.

Council passed its bylaw banning fireworks except on Canada Day and New Year’s Eve in June 2023. Due to wildfire risk last summer, it was determined no community fireworks would be set off July 1.

Following New Year’s Eve, however, the mayor suggested possibly increasing agreed upon fines of $5,000 per infraction to $10,000 and having administration return with ways to enhance awareness and estimated costs for municipal enforcement. 

“We have some concerns, especially following New Year’s Eve, which was the first real sort of test of our new bylaw,” said Krausert.

“There were a number of rogue fireworks that went off and we didn’t have in place an effective way to do the enforcement around that.”

There was also anecdotal evidence of fireworks being launched at other times of the year, including fireworks in the neighbourhoods of Lady Macdonald, Cougar Creek and the area of Canmore Collegiate High School. 

Loud noises generated by fireworks can lead to stress, disorientation and anxiety in pets and wildlife. In Banff National Park, Parks Canada staff have observed various impacts of fireworks, including disturbance to summer nesting birds and wintering elk.

Some members of council heard “multiple concerns” after New Year’s celebrations with respect to noisy fireworks being bothersome to pets and wildlife. The proposal was prepared for council by Krausert and Coun. Wade Graham.

Coun. Tanya Foubert, who argued in favour of keeping Canada Day fireworks during bylaw discussions last year, said she supported the idea of increasing municipal enforcement and fines, but with Canmore being a tourism community, investigating the potential use of fireworks by visitors could provide valuable insight to council.

“Who is the target audience, who is actually using fireworks in our community that isn’t supportive of the rules council has passed?” she said.

In Alberta, fireworks require a permit for purchase or use anywhere. If discharged on public lands or within designated forest protection areas as defined by the Public Lands Act or the Forest and Prairie Protection Act, a permit from a forest officer is needed.

The sale of fireworks is further not permitted in the Town of Canmore’s bylaw, which also states no person shall discharge fireworks without an additional permit from the fire department.

There are no Town-sanctioned fireworks planned for Canada Day 2024 given drought conditions, associated wildfire risk and recent years’ wildfire records.

Canada, Alberta and B.C., logged record-breaking wildfire seasons by area burned in 2023. During last year’s wildfire season in Alberta, from March 1 to Oct. 31, there were over 1,088 wildfires, burning about 22,000 hectares of land.

The majority of those – 61 per cent – were determined to be human-caused, while 35 per cent were caused by lightning strike. Lightning-caused wildfires accounted for about 80 per cent of total area burned.

Fear about the approaching wildfire season is palpable, with the Alberta government issuing early warnings of drought and establishing a drought advisory committee and 2024 drought emergency strategy.

Coun. Joanna McCallum asked whether the fireworks proposal before council considered banning private firepits from residential properties in Canmore, which she argued has a greater impact on the community from a “runaway fire” perspective.

“There are other municipalities that have actually banned private fires on private properties … like your typical backyard fire – no firepits. So, you could go to a provincial park, even a municipal park and they might have a fire pit there or a community pit that is well away from trees, well-supervised,” she said.

“When their fire department sees smoke in their community, they actually know it’s a fire, not just a firepit.”

The Town of Banff has banned the use of fireworks and didn’t have pyrotechnics last Canada Day or Halloween, with Parks Canada reviewing the impacts of noise and light flashes on wildlife. Banff council cut Canada Day fireworks from its 2024-26 operating budget, which saves about $15,000 each year. 

By Jessica Lee, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Feb 21, 2024 at 12:15

This item reprinted with permission from   Rocky Mountain Outlook   Canmore, Alberta

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