COLUMN: Endless pallet fires are burning out volunteers on the Fraser River

Problem is these pallets are left stacked at the rear of businesses, ripe for the taking

It’s a little like something out of Groundhog Day.

The situation with pallet fires on the Fraser River near Chilliwack, and those who clean up after them is completely absurd.

There’s just “no end to the nails and fires” as one exasperated volunteer put it.

He’d just returned from cleaning up burn piles in the same location near the Fraser River he’d been just a few days before.

Of course there have always been those self-entitled types who like to light pallet fires by the Fraser River. Who wouldn’t? It’s a cozy thing to do in the great outdoors.

You’ll find their burnt offerings around Peg Leg bar, at Jesperson Road, and at Gill Road.

READ MORE: Gate installed at Gill Road bar

But there are also annual river events and spot cleanups fuelled by volunteers who know these residues can be toxic for fish and other wildlife.

Chilliwack is so fortunate to have volunteers who care so much for the wild spaces that they give of their own time and money to keep these once-pristine areas clear of doofus-caused pollution.

They do spot cleanups and then do it again a few days later. They’ve even bought expensive sweepers with magnets attached to pick up the hundreds of pounds of nails from the zillion pallets burned without a care.

Still the nail-studded wooden pallets get burned. But it’s also discarded furniture thrown on the fire. And old tires. And other toxic materials as well.

Right now these illegal fires can add to respiratory complications in the age of COVID-19, but also they leave behind hideous, fish-killing burn pile residues in sensitive riparians zones that wash into the mighty Fraser.

There is no enforcement on these files despite the volunteers and advocates who have been making some noise about this subject of late.

Part of the problems is these pallets are left stacked at the rear of businesses, ripe for the taking. These business owners just look the other way as they’re scooped into pickups to be burned with abandon, and they are part of the problem here.

The onus is mostly on volunteers to do anything, sadly. We should do everything we can not to burn them out.

One volunteer admits he always used to enjoy pallet fires by the river. But not anymore. He just can’t stomach it anymore because he’s seen the aftermath and understands the environmental damage.

Complaints are sent in to City of Chilliwack, to the provincial Natural Resource Officers, and the RCMP. They get called in to the RAPP line (1-877-952-7277).

There are fines that could be levied if someone snaps a magical photo of the crime in progress.

But instead there’s sweet nothing. It’s always someone else’s jurisdiction. Or no one’s. It’s absurd and ridiculous.

The volunteers posted big, black burn pile photos recently on social media to wake people up.

Here is what river advocate Chris Gadsden wrote to city and provincial officials recently:

“The only way to stop this is to have enforcement out there, be it the Province, NROs, RCMP or the City in the area they can enforce their bylaws, (part of the Jesperson Boat Launch), to send patrols out to the areas we mention.”

They need to be around Fridays and the weekend nights, and the self-entitled pallet-burners will certainly be there.

The pallet-burners might read this and think, ‘So what? Everyone does it and has always done it.’

But maybe now they might think twice about what they are doing. They might feel a stab of remorse.

The cleanup volunteers are growing tired. They would like to see some real help from the powers that be. There has to be a way to address this longstanding problem.

Chilliwack has a reputation for collaboration, and seeing disparate interests joining forces to get stuff done. It’s time they turn their attention to this problem.

That’s the very least that should be expected here. C’mon.

READ MORE: Annual cleanup focuses on 10 km of the Fraser

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