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Million-dollar barn fire caused by fireworks

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A $1-million fire in Elgin County over the weekend is sparking debate over the use of fireworks on private property.

CTV News has learned that a massive fire on August 13, which destroyed a barn owned by a Central Elgin councillor, was caused by fireworks.

Central Elgin Fire Chief Ray Omerod said all it took was one firework element to set the barn ablaze.

“In what they assumed was a large, safe area, set it off. Set it off and inadvertently one of the, I’ll call it a flair, ended up going into the end of the barn where the hay bails were stored,” said Omerod.

The Southdale Line property where the fire took place is owned by local Counc. Norm Watson, who was holding a private gathering at the time.

Watson declined to do a formal interview with CTV News, but told us by phone that the “young person” who set off the fireworks is “remorseful.”

An undated file photo of Central Elgin councillor Norm Watson. (File)

According to municipal officials, Central Elgin’s fireworks bylaw dates back to 1969, and the former village of Port Stanley.

Officials said that in this case, no bylaw infraction occurred.

A notice on the Central Elgin website states, “You don’t need a permit to buy or use consumer fireworks on the following days: Victoria Day, Canada Day.” It also says to “make sure you are not close to houses, trees, cars, overhead wires, or dry grass.” 

Flames shoot through the roof of a barn fire on South Southdale Line just outside St. Thomas, Ont. on Sunday, Aug 13, 2023. (Source: Brent Lale/CTV London)

Chief Omerod said the existing rules present challenges.

“The problem is, an individual purchases [fireworks] at that respective time, but does not detonate them on that prescribed weekend. And then they hold them until one night they feel they want to set them off, and it’s difficult for us to keep tabs on every single person,” he said.

Elgin OPP Const. Brett Phair said no charges have been laid at this time, but the incident remains under investigation.

“The person that was using the fireworks was given permission by the owner and then it was just an unfortunate incident that occurred,” said Const. Phair.

In the meantime, Chief Omerod and Mayor Andrew Sloan agree that the existing fireworks bylaw needs to be reviewed and modernized. 

The existing fireworks bylaw from 1969. (File)

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