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Ferndale City Council OKs Backyard Fire Ordinance

Residents will have to apply for a permit and pay a one-time $25 fee.

Ferndale City Council approved a new open burning ordinance at their regular meeting Monday night.

The ordinance allows for backyard fires, which have been illegal in the city, as long as residents get a permit and follow certain guidelines.

Under the new ordinance, residents must apply for a burning permit and pay a one-time $25 fee.

Residents must also follow these rules:

  1. The patio wood-burning unit or campfire shall not be used to burn refuse.
  2. The patio wood-burning unit or campfire shall burn only clean wood.
  3. The patio wood-burning unit or campfire shall be located at least 20 feet from the nearest structure which is not on the same property as the patio wood-burning unit and at least 15 feet from the nearest structure on the same property as the patio wood-burning unit.
  4. The patio wood-burning unit or campfire shall not cause a nuisance to neighbors.
  5. Operational hours for any patio wood-burning unit or campfire shall be limited to the time between 11 a.m. and 1 a.m.
  6. All Fires shall be supervised by at least one person who is 18 years of age or older.
  7. There shall be at minimum a garden hose connected to a reliable water supply, 1 gallon bucket of water, or a 2a10BC rated fire extinguisher with 20 feet of any open burning.

You can read the full ordinance, as proposed, here. The original ordinance amendment proposed an annual $25 fee however council approved a change making it a one-time fee.

Council approved the new open burning ordinance 4-1, with Councilman T. Scott Galloway voting no.

Ferndale Fire Chief Kevin Sullivan said he believes the new ordinance provides a safe and legal way for residents to enjoy backyard fires and said the ordinance will actually provide more enforceability.

"The weight of enforcement is stronger" with the ordinance, he said.

Ferndale resident Sharon Hinman told council before the vote that she wants the ban to remain in effect.

"It's a nuisance," she said of backyard fires, pointing out that she has had to keep her air conditioning on more often this summer because she couldn't open her windows due to the smoke. "In my neighborhood it's every night of the week."

Resident Julie Updyke spoke in favor of the new ordinance, stating that she believes most residents are not looking to have out-of-control fires but just want to spend a nice evening outside. She said her motivation for wanting the ordinance to be approved is to respect the fire department, which regularly responds to calls about backyard fires.

"I just can't see that this is a good use of funding and resources to be sending our fire department out to all of these calls," she said.

Councilman Mike Lennon said he went back and forth on the ordinance but ultimately decided he doesn't believe it will add to any problems.

"I think this might solve a lot of problems. I think most of our residents are reasonable and intelligent enough to burn good, clean solid wood," he said.

Mayor Pro Tem Melanie Piana said with the increased availability of backyard chimineas for sale, they are almost becoming "part of being a homeowner" and said she believes the city is obligated to consider the issue.

"I think the public nuisance and the public safety are valid points brought to my attention but I think this ordinance addresses those," she said.

Galloway said he was originally in support of the ordinance but after further thought believes it will only encourage more backyard fires, pointing out concerns over smoke, small lots in the city and possible enforcement difficulties with where the fire pits are located, since most are mobile.

"To me it seems like we're putting a greater burden on the Fire Department by not having zero tolerance for this," he said.

What constitutes a nuisance is also a "very subjective standard," Galloway said, and said residents have a right to spend time in their backyard free from what they perceive to be a health risk, even if others don't agree it's a risk.

"I see entertainment versus health concerns," he said.

Mayor Dave Coulter said he believes the nuisance standard in the ordinance is a good option for enforcement and said the issue can always be revisited if there are problems.

"Because it's the chief coming and telling us that he thinks that ultimately it'll be less of a burden on his department, I'm willing to try this ordinance and see how it works in the city," Coulter said.

Councilman Dan Martin said he believes the key will be educating the public about the rules and how to report a nuisance. He encouraged the Fire Department to consider a "very aggressive education campaign."

MR Wilson October 09, 2012 at 02:35 PM
I am so glad this ordinance passed last night! I am very excited to enjoy occasional, safe, clean-wood burning seasonal fires with my family on my own property this fall. Thank you so much to Fire Chief Sullivan for drafting the provision and seeing the importance of a citizen-abiding law being adjusted to today's standards (vs 1950's). Not only does he support responsible and safe adult-lit fires, but he also shows respect for the Fire Department in being available to help with more dangerous and unmanageable fires and other fire-safety issues in our city. I will be first in line to apply for the permit once it is available.
Patrick Dengate October 09, 2012 at 02:49 PM
I usually support this council and its decisions, but I have to say this one dismays me. I appreciate Councilman Galloway's 'no' vote. Undoubtedly, there is a deep-rooted appeal for humans to the ambience of a crackling fire under the sky. But at a time when… • the speed of global warming is increasing (due in large part to excess carbon in the air); • there is so much talk of reducing our "carbon footprint"; • the air quality in metro areas is often poor; • health advocates struggle with polluting industries and strengthening the Clean Air Act; • the council recognizes residents' rights to be free of excessive noise from its business and residential neighbors …this decision is really inexplicable to me. Beyond the larger picture of residents' health and that of the planetary atmosphere, there is the matter of nuisance, given the small size of Ferndale lots.
Betsy Rose October 11, 2012 at 02:12 AM
You lost Ferndale. You just don't know it yet. Stay in the house and keep your windows shut all year long. No air condittioning? Watch the people who burn stink up the air and then go in their air conditioned houses. Little do they care about the squirrels and birds who live in their yards/trees having to choke on their toxic smoke. Yes, clean wood being burned is also toxic. I hope you find lung disease as entertaining as burning.
MR Wilson October 12, 2012 at 01:02 AM
I personally appreciate both of your responses to this article, but I'm surprised that you don't trust that your neighbors are responsible, respectful people that want exactly what the Fire Department is advocating: safe burning (within carefully drawn parameters of safe structure distance and by using inspected and approved equipment). The day people stop making fires to "reduce our carbon footprint, comply with the Clean Air Act or to discourage industrial polluting" is a long way off. Many studies have been done, including one published Jan 2012 in "EcoSystems" and funded by the US Dept of Energy concluding that there is NO INDICATION that FOREST fire carbon emissions are even comparable to those caused by fossil fuel use. And if a FOREST fire won't cause this type of emission, then what are the effects of 10-15 backyard chimenia or metal covered firepits in the small city of Ferndale? Probably not substantial. No one is being asked to stay in the house. You have a choice. Fires will most likely not be going as often as you might dramatically envision. And if you don't think fires are currently being enjoyed all around Ferndale, in direct disregard of a permit, then you are mistaken. This proposal for a license/permit so the fire department knows WHO is lighting the fires and if they have met safety standards, not to mention new fees going to the city of Ferndale is very reasonable and can always be disputed in the future. All the Best Intentions, MW
Greg Pawlica October 12, 2012 at 02:31 AM
Well, all of us small-lot residents couldn't enjoy this change even if we wanted to. My lot is 36 feet wide. There is a 12 foot wide garage on my property which is 15 feet away from the back of my house and my neighbor's garage is 2 feet from their property line...with only 26 feet between my garage and my neighbor's garage and 15 feet from the back of my house to the front of my garage, there is no way I could have a chimnea on my property. Honestly, there are probably only a few properties in Ferndale that COULD meet these requirements...and I bet they are all on the northwest end of the city.
jdcallow October 12, 2012 at 06:00 AM
Betsy et al, Instead of predicting doom and gloom why not wait to see how this pans out? I suspect it won't be any more disastrous than the occasional house party or BBQ.
Matthew October 14, 2012 at 01:42 PM
It's about time. Some of the best memories I have as a kid were sitting around a fire with friends and family. In these tough times my family and I don't get to camp as often as we would like so this is a very welcome change. Smores with a 5 and 8 year old, couldn't be better. I'm sure there will be some who let their fires get a little to big but these aren't the people who will be buying the permit anyway. Those of us who enjoy this kind of activity are usually outdoorsmen who love nature and everything it has to offer. We respect nature and our neighbors. As for the carbon foot print of a campfire, really? Your furnace and air conditioner have done more damage to the ozone than the burning of 5000 facecords of seasoned split white oak ever could. Thank you council, as soon as it's available I will be applying.

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