Wildfire concerns have prompted the city of Coquitlam to step up enforcement in municipal parks.
Council is considering hiring two bylaw officers on a seasonal basis with a focus on patrolling forested areas, particularly Mundy Park and along the Coquitlam River. The new officers would be tasked with keeping an eye out for smoking, which is prohibited in public parks, as well as illegal fires and barbecuing during high-risk wildfire months.
“It is going to be focused on park management during the hot season,” said Raul Allueva, the current deputy city manager and former general manager of parks and recreation. “A lot of it is going to be educational.”
The cost of hiring two bylaw officers on a six-month basis is $68,000, according to a staff report. A budget request will be made as part of the 2020 financial plan but the report stated that auxiliary officers could be rotated into the parks as early as this summer.
The city considered setting up a volunteer-run park patrol program but said similar initiatives in Surrey and Richmond were difficult to sustain over the long term and were ultimately cancelled.
The decision to hire additional bylaw staff comes after a delegation of concerned residents asked council in January to increase park patrols. They said the prevalence of smoking, barbecuing and illegal fires along the Coquitlam River during the summer put the area at risk.
Staff said the city already steps up patrols of parks during the warmer months and has a new communications plan for advising residents that municipal green spaces are, by law, smoke-free. The report also noted that forests along the Coquitlam River are at a lower risk of wildfires because they are a mix of evergreen and deciduous trees, as opposed to exclusively evergreen.
Most forested areas in Coquitlam are adjacent to municipal roads, providing access to fire hydrants and making them more accessible for firefighters, the report added.
“The risk of a significant wildfire in Coquitlam River Park is low and if a wildfire were to start there is a high likelihood that the fire/rescue department would respond quickly and have it contained before any significant damage is done,” said the report.
Still, hiring additional bylaw officers could help educate the public about the fire dangers, said Coun. Teri Towner.
She added that enforcement of garbage regulations have been effective in limiting bear conflicts and said more awareness about the dangers of smoking in parks would have similar results.
"Hopefully people will understand that the forests are dryer, the summers are hotter and we have to respect our forests," she said.