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Open Burning, Fire Pit Rules Spark Debate in Royal Oak

Some argue passionately to continue to ban fire pits while others contend regulation is a better option.

Discussion and debate over whether loosen open burning rules in Royal Oak is heating up.

Last week, the Royal Oak City Commission voted 5-2 to possibly repeal the open burning ordinance. Commissioners directed city administration to review the current language and potentially bring back a new set of regulations for open burning and the use of fire pits in Royal Oak.

The commission action follows a suggestion by resident Pete Collins and others, who asked the city to review its ordinance, especially in regard to changes that might allow outdoor fire pits. Collins told commissioners that he had collected signatures from more than 800 residents in support of modifying the current ban.

Royal Oak Fire Marshal supports current ban

The Royal Oak Fire Department is just beginning its review process in regards to modifying the ordinance, said Royal Oak Fire Marshal Tom Nikkola.

“My personal opinion is I am not for it,” Nikkola said. “The more burning there is, the more there is a chance for a fire. It’s that simple.”

Royal Oak resident Nancy Barnett agrees with that logic.

“A good strong wind can carry hot ashes and embers five backyards away. If someone leaves a window open on a windy night and another neighbor is having a bon fire, the fire risk is just too grave,” warned Barnett on Royal Oak Patch.

Burning outdoors is also currently prohibited in neighboring Berkley. The city’s ordinance makes it illegal to burn leaves, garbage, rubbish, refuse, trees, stumps and tires. Also included are materials of any kind that release odor, smoke or other matter.

The use of Chiminea-type outdoor fireplaces, metal grill fire pit devices, or similar items, is also a violation, according to Berkley’s website

Some neighboring cities regulate open burning

In Ferndale, the city council approved a new open burning ordinance last October  that allows for backyard fires, which had been illegal, as long as residents get a permit and follow certain guidelines.

“The new ordinance makes open burning less problematic,” said Ferndale Fire Chief Kevin Sullivan. 

Sullivan believes the new ordinance provides a safe and legal way for residents to enjoy backyard fires and said the ordinance actually provides more control and enforceability. 

“People are still burning, but there are less calls and less neighborhood disputes,” he said.

In Huntington Woods, open burning is also permissible, but the fire has to be contained within a pit that's designed for that specific use. It has to have a cover to keep the ashes from coming up, according to Huntington Woods Public Safety Lt. Ben Zawacki.

"There's not a whole lot of leeway. It's a very defined ordinance." Zawacki said.

The Huntington Woods Public Safety Department receives more calls in the summer and fall, according to Zawacki, but they only write tickets if it becomes a constant problem.

"People want it. What's the difference from having a barbecue, really? We just want to make sure it's safe, that's all," said Huntington Woods Zoning Administrator Hank Berry.

Royal Oak city officials are expected to bring back a recommendation and possible ordinance language at a future city commission meeting.

Nate McAlpine April 11, 2013 at 03:15 PM
Classy "John Doe"
Nate McAlpine April 11, 2013 at 03:29 PM
Ohhh, HRO, Human Rights Ordinance, yeah gotcha.... Well, there's been a lot of just 'boo-hoo, no fair' on here, so yeah, over my head :)
KDG1 April 12, 2013 at 03:08 AM
The report fails to mention that Pete Collins has been collecting signatures since 2010.
Oaktown April 12, 2013 at 03:50 AM
That's a major omission!
Nate McAlpine April 12, 2013 at 03:53 AM
Still 800. Doubt if they've changed their minds.
Bob April 12, 2013 at 01:15 PM
You don't need a new ordinance to educate the public. A reminder in the Royal Oak Insight will suffice.
Joe Dokes April 12, 2013 at 05:27 PM
I don't like the smoke blowing in my house either. When I, or my neighbors, have a bonfire... I close my back windows only, works fine for me. Are these same people with respiratory and asthma issues trying to ban fire places as well? All that smoke goes outside and you can smell it as well.
Fed up with whiners April 12, 2013 at 06:02 PM
Alisa you are whiny. I would like to live next to you and run my BBQ smoker 10-12 hours a day with all of the smoke blowing right towards your house. The great thing is there would be absolutely nothing you could do. Here is what would happen: "No! The smoke / smell gets into my house from the neighbors so I have to close the windows and turn on the AC so the neighbors can enjoy the "beautiful night air". All I get is the stink, a headache, loss of freedom of enjoyment, and a higher electric bill.
Lianne Mathie April 13, 2013 at 07:21 PM
What a tool.
Bob April 15, 2013 at 01:07 PM
One thing I saw reported in Royal Oak Review that I have not seen here. It was the idea bandied about for obtaining a permit is to setup a process On-Line to obtain it. This I find extremely troubling. The permit should be issued by a city official that actually puts their feet and eyeballs on the property to determine it is suitable for a fire pit. The cheap way of going about this is not the right way. If we are going down this road, don't go about it half-ass.
Bob April 15, 2013 at 01:12 PM
I would also say that quiet hours in a campground usually start no later than 11:00 PM. They enforce that too as I have been enforced upon. We need some teeth behind the fire pit ordinance and it's unfortunate that it would pull resources from areas of great need. Perhaps the fee to obtain a fire permit could fund the fire police.
mls April 15, 2013 at 03:22 PM
I'm not quite sure how you can equate safe, responsible behavior with outdoor burning, if that behavior jeopardizes the health of even one person. Come on people, the real issue is clean air. And air pollution from outdoor burning does not add to clean air quality. The repeal of this ban is a step backwards.
Walt April 15, 2013 at 04:47 PM
The laughable thing is that the people who advocate for open burning probably advocate for recycling, too. Talk about one step forward, and two steps back. Maybe some of the youngsters on the city commission need to research why open burning was originally banned in Royal Oak in the 60's. It still applies today.
mls April 15, 2013 at 05:48 PM
To paraphrase a comment from Mr. DuBuc from his facebook post re Wayne County Health Care: healthy air creates healthy communities. Just a thought. And to the post from Wait, so true!!
Tom April 19, 2013 at 04:27 AM
A comprehensive source of information on the negative health effects of wood smoke http://burningissues.org/forum/phpBB2/index.php
Tom April 19, 2013 at 04:34 AM
Lisa, even more dangerous are those that use these so-called "fire-pits" RIGHT ON THEIR WOOD DECK! I have filmed some of these reckless clowns and plan to show that film to the town fathers
Tom April 19, 2013 at 04:37 AM
Even "Clean Wood" creates poisonous, carcinogenic SMOKE --- there is NOTHING "clean" about burning of wood --- smoke can actually KILL certain people by means of stroke or heart attack --- are we OK with this???
Tom April 19, 2013 at 04:38 AM
Erich, the police DO NOTHING AT ALL
Tom April 19, 2013 at 04:42 AM
"Fed up with whiners" how would you like to find a dog turd floating in your swimming pool tomorrow morning? If you try to smoke ME out, that's exactly what you would find!
Tom April 19, 2013 at 04:49 AM
Burners suggest that we "close our windows and use A/C." (A) This costs me A LOT OF MONEY (B) The putrid (smoke) odor comes right in THROUGH the window A/C vents, sides, etc, no matter how 'well-sealed' they are. Window A/C units ARE NOT HERMETICALLY SEALED therefore let in a lot of outside air (C) Ban the fire pits and make it a FELONY to burn wood in the city
Tom April 19, 2013 at 04:52 AM
sorry I didn't get the joke.
Tom April 19, 2013 at 05:00 AM
I have been collecting news articles about house fires caused by fire pits. There have been quite a few. In one case, twelve houses burned to the ground... In Michigan, this guy threw a gallon of gasoline on his fire pit, which burned him, and his 6-yo daughter was BURNED TO DEATH, here in Lennox Twp Michigan! Last year, remember the two teens that threw five gallons of gasoline on their two-story woodpile, and ignited it, which then EXPLODED, killing them and blowing out windows 300 feet away? The bottom line is this: FIRE IS DANGEROUS and should not be allowed because people are RECKLESS (that is exactly why they ban DRINKING AND DRIVING, isn't it?) Fire pits are a danger to health (smoke) as well as a danger to property (house fires) BAN ALL WOOD BURNING FIRE PITS
Nate McAlpine April 19, 2013 at 11:21 AM
So much exaggeration going on. If you think a bonfire is annoying that's fine. But you're not going to be stuck inside with windows closed all summer. Nobody's going to die or blow anything up. The small amount of pollution from fire pits isn't going to cause the earth to end. It's not some extreme idea to have fire pits. If they were such a hazard, state parks wouldn't provide fire pits in the middle of the woods for campers.
Tom April 20, 2013 at 04:00 AM
Nate, fire pits out in the middle of the woods are a completely different thing than a fire pit twenty feet from my window. Why not just go out camping if you like fires --- it's more enjoyable to be out there camping in the woods anyway!
Tom May 25, 2013 at 09:36 PM
Well then we really need to ban fireplaces then...lol! I have neighbors that use firepits around 12 and Campbell area near the golf course and I have neighbors that burn wood in their fireplaces...hypocrisy I say, you people that have these horrible respiratory conditions must be calling the police all the time for fireplace fires!?!? My neighbor was using his fireplace and I asked him what kind of pit he had you know brand, size what have you...he looked at me goofy and laughed "that wasn't a firepit that was my fireplace". The smell and the wood is the same!!! This is to you fools that complain about the smoke smell at 1am, my neighbor had his fireplace smoldering till 3am! Should I call the police???? I think not, it's the same wood being burned with the same smoke going into your lungs...stupid stupid people with a stupid argument about your right to breathe clean air!!!! What a joke, the only argument is for a possible fire at your neighbors and that's suspect as well cuz my neighbors fireplace throws ash and hot cinders as well you miserable fools! Have regulations allow them and deal with it or call the police on everyone that uses a grill with possibly overfilled propane tanks BOOM, or starts a fire in there fire place with ash and smoke and hot cinders cough cough hack I can't breathe! Get over it and deal with it, ultimately you have no argument!!!
Teresa Franklin June 05, 2013 at 01:04 AM
Did this ever get resolved? Can I get a fire pit?
Bill Lewin June 10, 2013 at 08:52 AM
Sure allow fire pits could be very lucrative for a smoked out neighbour. They can sue you for nuisance wood smoke on their property. there have been many lawsuit's over this this one for example. Supreme Court of Ontario ruled that wood smoke can be a threat to health and awarded a Hamilton couple $270,000 in damages and legal costs.
Bill Lewin June 10, 2013 at 08:34 PM
800 residents in support of modifying the current ban. Royal Oak population 57,607 (2011)
Nate McAlpine June 12, 2013 at 11:04 AM
Bill, I'm sure if it were on a ballot, a lot more than 800 people would vote for it. Not all 57k residents were asked to sign the petition.
Rafael Toral October 30, 2013 at 05:07 PM
Unfortunately, wood smoke is a known carcinogen and extremely toxic. Royal Oak is simply permitting a known public nuisance and health hazard. Looks like litigation is the only recourse. If you enjoy breathing relatively clean air, and are interested in litigation, email me at: oldlemonparty@gmail.com

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