2010 Feb. 12: MI Clawson: Proposed amendment to open burning ordinance‏

2010 Feb. 12: MI Clawson: Proposed amendment to open burning ordinance‏

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

the permit.

Respectfully submitted,

Donald E. Johnson

City Manager


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



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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