Bangor officials looking to beef up city’s rules around backyard fire pits, bonfires

Posted May 05, 2014, at 8:43 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Bangor could soon place restrictions on what residents can burn in their backyards.

With the blessing of Bangor’s Government Operations Committee Monday night, City Solicitor Norm Heitmann will craft the language and bring it back to city councilors at a future meeting.

The ordinance likely require the fire be a minimum distance from buildings, neighboring properties and trees with overhanging branches. It also will restrict what materials can be burned in order to cut down the amount of smoke — for example, no accelerants or burning of leaves, rotten wood or pressure-treated lumber. There may also be restrictions on how much can be burned at once in hopes of limiting the size of blazes.

The new version of the ordinance also would boost the fines above the current level of $100, though the exact dollar amount hasn’t been determined. Penalties for violating some city ordinances can run as high as $2,500, Heitmann said. Repeat violations could result in revocation of the resident’s burn permit for the year.

Under city code, anyone who wants to have an open fire in Bangor must obtain a fire permit from the city by calling the fire department. Heitmann said that the language of the current code isn’t entirely clear and should be updated. Someone from the department visits the site, checks it to ensure all the appropriate safety measures are in place, and typically issues a burn permit on the spot, according to Fire Chief Scott Lucas.

Residents in the area of Garland Street and Forest Avenue came to the city last month seeking relief, saying that one of their neighbors was lighting up a bon fire in their backyard with friends several nights each week. Smoke was sometimes thick and came into their homes, and at times the fire got so high they could see the flames over the fence, they said. Repeated calls to the fire department and police had little effect because the residents had a burn permit, according to the neighbors.

Heitmann said he doesn’t expect this ordinance will put a stop to people burning without a permit in the city, “people burn without a permit, people drive without a license too,” he said. But this ordinance should give the city guidance when an issue like the one around Garland Street comes up again, he said.

Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter @nmccrea213

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