Commission Letter #: 50-10
Commission Meeting: 2/15/2010
RE: Proposed Amendment to Open Burning Ordinance
February 12, 2010
The Honorable Mayor
Members of City Commission
The staff recommendation, prepared by Fire Chief White, which is attached, is against modifying the ordinance.
For that reason, the City Attorney has not yet prepared an ordinance amendment. However, to facilitate
discussion, we have attached a copy of the Clawson ordinance which has been suggested as a model for allowing
To further facilitate discussion, I’m also including the following which outlines provisions for an ordinance which
would allow for outdoor fireplaces with a permit under the certain conditions:
1. Only allow burning in an approved outdoor fireplace.
2. Only allow hardwood for fuel.
3. Does not allow for the emanation of smoke from the property to any adjourning property.
4. Requires property owners with an "outdoor fireplace" permit to locate their outdoor fireplace on their
property in a manner which:
a. minimizes the risk of emanation of smoke from the property to any adjoining property
b. minimizes the risk of fire escaping the outdoor fireplace
5. Require property owners with an "outdoor fireplace" permit to have fire suppression equipment (hose or
extinguisher) within reach while using outdoor fireplaces.
6. Require property owners with an "outdoor fireplace" permit to pay a permit fee which is earmarked for
recreational use and take an on-line fire safety class to obtain said permit
7. Make repeated violation of the ordinance a criminal act.
Again, the staff recommendation is against modifying the ordinance in this manner. We believe it will be much
more difficult to enforce an ordinance such as that suggested above. Under the current ordinance, we only have to
determine that burning is occurring to know a violation has occurred. We do not have to determine what fuel is
being used, whether smoke is reaching the neighbors property, whether fire suppression equipment is within reach,
whether a permit has been issued, or anything else.
We would not object to altering the ordinance if it allowed us to revoke a permit and require fires to be extinguished
because of complaints from neighbors. That would essentially leave our enforcement where it is today. Our
current policy is for the fire department to respond to complaints by politely informing the violator of the ordinance
and requesting they put out the fire. Only repeat violators receive a citation from a police officer. We are not on
patrol searching for outdoor fires. We only respond when there is a complaint from a neighbor.
The key to this working for us is that there be no judgment call for our people to make. We don’t determine whether
the neighbor’s complaint is valid or not. If there is a complaint we require the fire to be extinguished and we revoke
Donald E. Johnson
Commission Letter #:50-10
Commission Meeting: 02/15/2010
Proposed Amendment to Open Burning Ordinance
February 10, 2010
The Honorable Mayor
Members of City Commission
I recommend no change to the existing outdoor burning ordinance.
For purposes of discussion outdoor burning, open burning and recreational fire shall be
considered the same.
From a safety standpoint, I would not be in favor of burning on the ground. Fires started on the
ground have no limit to the size of the fire and there is a potential for flame spread to the
surrounding areas. This type of open burning can lead to large amounts of combustibles piled
up and once ignited will produce unrestricted flame heights and radiant heat. The smoke from
this type of fire can potentially travel a great distance and can become a nuisance to many
The Fire Department has experienced incidents where citizens were burning unseasoned wood
or trash which produces an offensive odor with thick smoke. The International Fire Code refers
to objectionable smoke, odor emissions or atmospheric conditions as a measure to prohibit
open burning. We do not have the resources to monitor and announce prohibitive atmospheric
conditions to citizens that are interested in open burning. Additionally, the Fire Department does
not want to be the determining factor in regards to objectionable smoke or odor emissions.
I feel that portable fireplaces are as safe as a barbeque grill if they are used as designed.
However the smoke produced cannot be controlled and could easily travel into neighboring
properties. Without the use of a chimney or a stack, the smoke will naturally travel at low levels
in the direction of the wind.
From a health standpoint, I am concerned that the smoke generated from any outdoor fire that
drifts into a neighbor’s yard, may be offensive to the neighbor. The Michigan Department of
Environmental Quality states that solid fuels produce particulate in the form of smoke and
gasses that can mix with the air we breathe and may cause irritation to the respiratory system
and eyes. This can pose a serious threat to those that suffer from asthma, allergies and other
respiratory conditions in addition to lowering the overall air quality for everyone.
The MDEQ sites the products of combustion from plastics and treated lumber are a hazard to
everyone. We do not have the ability to monitor every type of product that could be placed on a
fire. The MDEQ makes mention that most localities restrict open burning because of the number
of nuisance problems that arise from the activity. If we were to allow open burning, it would
place the Fire Department as the authority having jurisdiction, right in the middle of a neighbor
verses neighbor issue. This situation would leave the fire department in the position to respond
to the scene of the fire, only if we were alerted to the situation and this would result in the fire
department extinguishing the fire and revoking any privilege for future outdoor fires.
The existing ordinance prohibits outdoor burning except for propane, natural gas and charcoal
cooking fires. The Fire Department responds to open burning complaints with a Fire Truck and
personnel in order to extinguish the fire, to advise the homeowner of the burning restrictions and
to collect contact information. If we relaxed the ordinance to allow certain recreational fires, we
would still be responsible to respond in the event that we were called due to a neighbor being
disturbed by the smoke.
The difference is considerable. We can simply prohibit the activity as it stands or attempt to
regulate the size of the fire, the material that is allowed to be placed in the fire, respond to
offensive smoke or nuisance calls, regulate the container that is permissible and develop a
sustainable permit process in order to educate the interested parties on safe recreational fire
Additionally, the Fire Marshal, who heads the Fire Prevention Division, believes that the existing
outdoor burning ordinance should remain unchanged.
Be It Resolved that the City Commission
should make no changes to the existing
outdoor burning ordinance.
Respectfully submitted, Approved,
Wil White Donald E. Johnson
Fire Chief City Manager
CITY OF CLAWSON
Sec. 46-11. Outdoor burning prohibited; exceptions.
(a) Except as provided herein, open burning of any wood, leaves, grass, trash, plastic
or other material is prohibited within the city except as permitted herein. Any person
found violating this section shall be charged with a civil infraction and also may be
responsible for any cost and expense of enforcement of the civil infraction.
(b) The use of an outdoor grill or barbeque is permitted provided a fire-suppression
device is nearby when the equipment is in use.
(c) The open burning of fires other than outdoor grilling of food is also permitted under
the following circumstances:
(l) The fire is contained within an outdoor burning device such as a chimenea,
commercial fire pit, fire bowl or similar manufactured device.
(2) The fire is within a pit located in the ground and surrounded by brick tile, or
other materials at least eight inches in height, with a diameter no larger than 48
(3) The combustible material is untreated wood or charcoal.
(4) The location of the fire is no less than ten feet from any structure and no less
than 18 feet from any boundary or property line.
(5) The fire will be attended at all times by an adult.
(6) There must be a fire-suppression device or extinguisher nearby and available
for immediate use.
(7) All fires must be extinguished by midnight. Fires shall not be allowed to
(8) A permit shall have been obtained from the city clerk.
(d) The city clerk shall issue permits for the fires authorized herein and may charge a
fee for the issuance thereof which fee amount shall be determined from time to time by
resolution of the city council. The permit shall be effective for a period of five years after
date of issuance and must be renewed upon expiration.
(e) Any violation of this section can result in the following: a 30-day suspension of the
permit for a first violation, a civil infraction for a second violation and the imposition of
costs of prosecution on a fire conducted without any permit. Any fire extinguished by the
fire department will result in the assessment of costs against the owner of the property
or occupant upon which the fire was located and extinguished.
(Ord. No. 651, 8-15-2006)
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