Council Approves Backyard Fires

Council Approves Backyard Fires

(C. Proxmire, Oct. 15, 2012)

Before City Council voted to approve allowing backyard fire pits in Ferndale, they did their research and considered a variety of opinions.  Fire Chief Kevin Sullivan worked with City Attorney Dan Christ to draft an ordinance that addressed potential concerns and set up regulations, which was approved on Oct. 8, 2012.

“There are some people who feel that there’s gonna be wild crazy burning.  That’s not going to be the case,” Sullivan said.  “We actually have the ability to pull the permit and have more enforceability with it than under the current thing [ban].”

Fires used to be prohibited.  But now residents can pay a one-time $25 fee and abide by the regulations to have small, controlled fires.  The ordinance passed 4-1, with Councilperson Scott Galloway voting no. Galloway expressed concerns that they were allowing something for entertainment purposes that could potentially create air quality issues, and that the “nuisance” clause might be too vague.  He also wondered if allowing fires might create more work for the Fire Department.

Mayor David Coulter spoke with city leadership in Beverly Hills, a city that approved a similar ordinance two years ago, and found there were no big concerns. Hazel Park and Royal Oak also allow regulated burning.

modern taxChief Sullivan said that complaints about backyard fire, even when banned, had been common.  “We get called on these things quite substantially…I would assume that we might have a spike in this when we start but I think once we educate the public [calls will go down]…Hopefully in the future it’s a thought of ours it might reduce it because we’ll be able to look at a list and tell who has them, and make sure they know they are doing it correctly,” Sullivan said.  “We’ve had things like couches and chairs like a college football prep party so we’re talking a bonfire, it looked like a garage was on fire.  We’ve had people burn some quite spectacular things in their back yard, so I believe that this will help us control some of those things.”

Ordinance 1134 Article 4 states:

  1. The patio wood-burning unit or campfire shall not be used to burn refuse.
  2. The patio wood-burning unit or campfire shall burn only clean wood.
  3. The patio wood -burning unit or campfire shall be located at least 20 feet from the nearest structure which is not on the same property as the patio wood – burning unit and at least 15 feet from the nearest structure on the same property as the patio wood-burning unit.
  4. The patio wood-burning unit or campfire shall not cause a nuisance to neighbors.
  5. Operational hours for any patio wood – burning unit or campfire shall be limited to the time between 11:00 AM and 1:00 A.M.
  6. All Fires shall be supervised by at least one per son who is 18 years of age or older.
  7. There shall be at minimum a garden hose connected to a reliable water supply, 1 gallon bucket of water, or a 2a10BC rated fire extinguisher with 20 feet of any open burning.

Resident Sharon Hinman spoke out against the ordinance at the meeting.  “I want the ordinance to stay as it is, and I’d like the enforcement stepped up and more tickets written.  It’s terrible.  It’s a nuisance in my neighborhood every night of the week.”

Julie Updyke brought young son Jake to the podium with her.  “I’ve been framing this as the ‘save the s’mores’ campaign,” Updyke said.  “I don’t think that the majority of people burning fires, at least on our street in our neighborhood, are doing it to relive the glory days of the frat party…I think that most of them are the ability to spend time outdoors with their family on a nice fall evening and just create some memories.”

She also expressed her view on the Department’s previous handling of backyard fire complaints.  “I just can’t see that this is a good use of funding and resources, to be sending the Fire Department out to all of these calls and having them put out fire pits with a garden hose.  …I respect my fire department way too much.”

To watch the City Council meeting or to read the entire ordinance, visit the City of Ferndale website at

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