BITF 2017 Fire Safety Review

I wanted to put out a huge thank you to the fire safety team, whose work allowed us to continue to use fire in a conscientious fashion despite the province-wide ban, and to all the participants who were careful with their stoves, fire pits, and cigarettes. BITF is 0-for-14 in actually Burning the Forest, because of you!

The effigy fire in particular requires significant coordination, as fires of that size are seldom allowed by authorities (whether the Authority Having Jurisdiction is the Province or the Cheam Band) and never without a plan. AHJ’s do allow burn ban exemptions for well-planned fire events in lower-risk areas, but it takes a lot of work from a skilled team to accomplish it!

The Fire Safety effort this year included:

– Submission of a fire plan which details all planned burns and flame effects, with safety precautions and emergency provisions for each. Every artist was required to submit such a plan, and the event team processed these submissions into a single coordinated plan for the event.

– Procurement of all fire safety gear specified in the Plan, furnishing it onsite, and having trained volunteers operate the equipment when required.

– A joint review with each artist and the fire safety team, to go over a standardized checklist of safety considerations and satisfy all that the artwork has been assembled by the artist, consistent with its specific fire safety plan.

– Liaising between senior members of the team and the various stakeholders in the area (the Cheam Band, the Kent Fire District, and the Coastal Fire Centre) in the weeks leading up to the event to discuss conditions, precautions, and everyone’s comfort levels with the burn.

BITF met with the above stakeholders on Wednesday and tentatively agreed that the effigy burn was safe to proceed, pending actual conditions on Saturday night. This was based on observations that the Cheam site was still relatively lush, that the deciduous trees adjacent to the riverbank are very low fire risk in general, that the planned fire contained no cedar wood, whose embers can carry long distances, and that there was a thorough plan in place to safely execute the burn. The Cheam, who are the jurisdictional authority, graciously deferred to having Kent FD onsite, and the Kent FD insisted on bringing their own trucks and crew to act as a primary response.

It is interesting to note that the conditions in 2017 varied significantly from 2015, when the decision was made by BITF not to hold the burn. Specifically, although the situation in 2017 is dire around the province, the fire rating in the local area was “High” on Saturday (as opposed to “Extreme” in 2015), and there are currently no fires in the immediate vicinity (the closest was in Harrison Hot Springs), whereas in 2015 we were surrounded by nearby fires to the north, west, and east.

All fire performance leads, safety leads, and stakeholders held a final meeting before the burn on Saturday night to review the planned activities and precautions, and to give a joint “thumbs up” to the fire show. We agreed that the risks were adequately mitigated and that the winds were tolerably mild, if the participants were given a warning about flying embers. The burn proceeded as planned, and all stakeholders executed their roles admirably. Notably, the Kent fire chief advised that no reports were received from the public by Kent Fire Service dispatch during the fire and fire show, and we were relieved to hear that the additional burden on these volunteers was minimal.

The result of this effort was a satisfying experience for all parties, and a significant step forward for us. Burning Man has long had a strong relationship with authorities and stakeholders besides the artists; stakeholders who usually want to see well-planned burns proceed in spite of global risks wherever possible. A highlight for me was BITF’s first ever Inner Perimeter (known as “Sandmen” at Burning Man), which was made possible by the experience of members of our community at other events, and their bringing that knowledge to BITF.

Fire safety is a cornerstone of Burning Man events and of BITF; cool, unique, unusual and awesome things are possible when a strong team practices a strong work ethic, stakeholders keep each others’ interests at heart, and an entire community steps up to be conscientious about the rules. If you want to be more involved in BITF fire safety or BITF fire art, the more the merrier…feel free to reply to this message, PM me, or simply ask a fire artist how!

<3 Simon
BITF 2017 Fire Safety Co-Lead
On behalf of the GVIAS Board of Directors


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