May 25, 2018
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Bangor Council to vote on new rules for backyard burns

By Nick McCrea, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — Bangor is about to revamp regulations regarding what and how you burn during backyard barbecues and nighttime chats around the campfire.

After a group of residents in the area of Garland Street and Forest Avenue came to the city last month seeking relief from a neighbor’s large, frequent bonfires that sent smoke wafting across the neighborhood, Bangor City Solicitor Norm Heitmann and Fire Chief Scott Lucas sat down to iron out revisions to the city’s open burning ordinance.

The proposed ordinance would make a number of changes. Under current rules, no one is allowed to light a bonfire or “other exposed fire” in the city without a permit from the fire department, whether you have a fire bowl, outdoor fireplace, chiminea or other device meant to contain fire or not.

That regulation didn’t make a lot of sense, according to Heitmann, so it has been softened. Fire officials make relatively frequent house calls in summer months to approve burn plans, according to Lucas. Still, it’s likely many people never bother to call the department before setting off a small fire on their property to cook or sit around and chat.

Under the new version of the ordinance, people can light a fire in their backyard for recreational purposes without a permit, as long as they have a bowl or other item designed to contain the fire.

Campfires or fires contained by items not designed to do so, such as cinder blocks, will still need to be permitted.

The ordinance also would add several new requirements, many of which were borrowed from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency guidelines and similar ordinances in Portland and other municipalities.

Recreational fires must be a safe distance from buildings, decks, trees and property lines. The fire pit or fire ring must be less than 3 feet in diameter, and material can’t be piled more than 2 feet high to keep the size of the fire down.

What cannot be burned in an outdoor fire includes trash, cardboard, plastic, foam, construction debris, pressure-treated or painted wood, wet wood, rotted wood, diseased wood, moldy wood or leaves. The restrictions are intended, in large part, to prevent hazardous smoke and fumes from hitting the noses of neighbors.

For any outdoor fire, a “responsible person” must be present at all times. A garden hose, bucket of water or fire extinguisher must be close by. No burning will be allowed if wind is blowing more than 15 miles per hour or if the State Forest Division has classified a Class 1 or 2 fire danger.

Also, renters or visitors to a public or private property must be able to prove they have permission from the owner to have a recreational fire on their property.

If the fire department receives a complaint about a fire, someone from the department will be sent to the site to determine whether the rules are being followed. If not, the new version of the ordinance lays out more stringent penalties.

The fine for violating this statute will be at least $250. In especially dangerous situations or instances in which the resident repeatedly violates public safety, the fire department may revoke the right to burn for a year.

These penalties wouldn’t be levied against anyone who is willing to work with fire officials or was unaware of the rules, Heitmann said.

Heitmann compared this ordinance to the disruptive properties ordinance the city adopted in early 2013. That also was formed largely in response to complaints from a small group of residents surrounding one particular apartment building in Bangor.

The city has yet to issue that ordinance to a single property owner.

“Like a good ordinance should, that one got the word out, and people haven’t violated it,” Heitmann said.

These rules won’t be an issue for anyone who burns the way they should burn, he added.

The council is expected to vote on the revised ordinance during its next meeting at 7:30 p.m. Monday, June 23, at city hall.

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