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Downs Construction Ltd. workers remove personal belongings from a home in Victoria on June 6, 2011, after a fire in the basement. (Chad Hipolito For The Globe And Mail/Chad Hipolito For The Globe And Mail)
Downs Construction Ltd. workers remove personal belongings from a home in Victoria on June 6, 2011, after a fire in the basement. (Chad Hipolito For The Globe And Mail/Chad Hipolito For The Globe And Mail)

Environment

Victoria couple's eco-friendly war on weeds goes up in smoke Add to ...

Victoria bans cosmetic pesticides from the city's lawns, but it has no prohibition against a product advertised as an eco-friendly alternative: weed-burning torches.

"They're not necessarily recommended, but they're not banned and we have no plans to ban them," said city spokesperson Katie Josephson, after a heritage house in Victoria was badly burned last week in a fire sparked by a weed-burning flamethrower. "This was considered a unique and unfortunate incident that highlights the need to be cautious when using open flame around a house."

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The Victoria Fire Department discourages both residents and trained professionals from using the propane-powered torches, whose sales have risen as cosmetic pesticide bans have spread. "We get requests from contractors who want to use them in public places, in parking lots, along the side of buildings and we don't generally allow them," said Victoria fire investigator Megan Sabell.

Victoria has a long-standing ban against open burning, and the man whose house burned last Wednesday thinks the torches should be prohibited as well. "In my opinion, it's not a safe product and we certainly weren't using it in a reckless fashion," said Jason Reid, whose home caught fire while his wife, Maureen, was burning weeds off their back patio. "We were only using it between patio pavers, we wouldn't use it on the lawn or our flower garden or anything. I don't think products like that should be on the market."

The Reids purchased their miniature flamethrower, dubbed the "Weed Wand," from Veseys, an online supplier of garden equipment based on Prince Edward Island.

Resembling a watering wand with a propane canister on one end and a flame spout on the other, the $44.95, hand-held unit is advertised as "a great product for those who want an alternative to using toxic chemicals." Officials with Veseys did not return calls Monday.

According to Rittenhouse, a large garden supply firm based outside St. Catharines, Ont., sales of weed-burning garden torches are on the rise due to the increasing number of Canadian cities and provinces that have banned cosmetic pesticides in recent years.

"There's definitely a shift toward more organic, eco-friendly alternatives, partly because provinces like Ontario and Quebec have banned cosmetic pesticides," said Aaron Rittenhouse, the company's marketing manager. "They're not blowing out the door or anything, but we have a good steady stream of sales."

Rittenhouse's offers a complete line of weed-burning torches, from low-end models such as the Mini Weed Dragon to the high-end Infra-Weeder Eliminator & Dandy-Destroyer, which uses a glowing infra-red coil to stamp out unwanted weeds.

Annual sales are "in the hundreds," Mr. Rittenhouse said.

Victoria is one of 29 B.C. municipalities that have banned cosmetic pesticides in recent years, and last month B.C.'s Liberal government established a special committee to look at a possible province-wide ban. Cosmetic pesticides are also banned in New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia.

While fires caused by weed-burners are rare, at least half a dozen such cases have been reported in North America over the past decade. Last summer in the town of Oldham, England, elected officials accidentally set fire to a local carpet shop during a volunteer weed removal work bee.

Forced from their home, the Reids are staying with relatives until they can find an apartment to rent while restoration crews repair the damage to their home, a job that could take months.

"The reason we bought [the weed-burner]was to be environmentally friendly, but it certainly didn't work out that way," said Mr. Reid. "I'll never use one of those things again."

Special to The Globe and Mail

 

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