City councilor seeks to change open burning

WESTFIELD—One city councilor is working to write an ordinance that would allow fire pits and other outdoor fireplaces to be in people’s yards without the potential for a fine.

Dan Allie

At-large councilor Dan Allie is working with the city’s law department, as well as getting information from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) to write an ordinance that would both allow outdoor ambiance fires and would follow MassDEP regulations. According to Allie, outdoor burning without a permit or if the flame is not being used for cooking can lead to significant fines.

“We’re working to write something that’s very carefully worded, so residents are not open to these excessive fines and we’re not overwriting something,” Allie said.

The city council and Mayor Brian Sullivan had previously passed a city ordinance related to the issue in April 2016. In that ordinance, the city specifically exempted outdoor fire pits, outdoor fireplaces and chimeneas from the open burning regulations. However, according to Allie, MassDEP has since challenged the ordinance due to lack of clarity and the outdoor burning in those outdoor items is still prohibited and because they are “concerned.”

MassDEP has regulations for open burning, and not following them could lead to a $1,000 fine. From the MassDEP online question-and-answer on open burning:

“[MassDEP] and your local fire department limit open burning for public health and safety reasons. Open burning pollutes the air and can make it difficult for people with respiratory problems to breathe. When the air is stagnant, open burning can pose smoke and odor nuisances – and health risks – to nearby residents, particularly in densely populated areas. Open burning can also pose a safety risk when it is not adequately controlled. The limits on open burning do not apply to outdoor cooking.

However, according to Allie, some outdoor fire sites should not apply to this.

“Burning in chimeneas and outdoor fireplaces is not open burning,” Allie wrote in an email further clarifying the issue. “[H]owever, these devices are still subject to MassDEP air pollution regulations because they emit smoke. The smoke emitted must not create a nuisance, a condition of air pollution, or a hazard to others.”

He also added that the regulations could have unintended consequences, such as restricting scout troops from certain activities.

“A recreational fire from the boy scouts could be banned because it emits smoke,” he said.

According to Westfield Fire Chief Mary Regan, regardless the end result, safety is their top priority.

“We just want to have people be safe,” Regan said. “We don’t want regulations where the fire is too close to structures or too close to neighbors and is a nuisance.

She also said that people should keep all flames small, have a water source nearby and consider weather conditions such as wind, which could unintentionally spread fires.

Finally, Regan added that it is MassDEP that makes all determinations on the regulations, not the fire department.

Currently, if a resident wanted to open burn, a permit must be acquired from their local fire department and may only burn from Jan. 15 to May 1, between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Also, all burning must take place 75 feet from all buildings. As of April 17 though, current conditions dictated that open burning was not allowed. To find out more, call the Westfield Fire Department at (413)562-2329 and choose options to seek permission to burn brush.

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