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:
- The patio wood-burning unit or campfire shall not be used to burn refuse.
- The patio wood-burning unit or campfire shall burn only clean wood.
- 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.
- The patio wood-burning unit or campfire shall not cause a nuisance to neighbors.
- Operational hours for any patio wood-burning unit or campfire shall be limited to the time between 11 a.m. and 1 a.m.
- All Fires shall be supervised by at least one person who is 18 years of age or older.
- 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."