Hotter than ever



As the autumn progresses, city and state governments are still struggling with the problems of open conflagrations I posted about last January.

Under urging by the DEC, New York State is now considering a statewide ban on the open burning of trash and rubbish, which is currently forbidden only in municipalities with over 20k inhabitants. Brush burning in rural communities has long been common, but modern trash burning can cause emissions of heavy metals, benzene, formaldehyde, particulate matter and other toxins.

Across the border, in Calgary, Alberta—where one third of the homes have firepits—the city council is considering licensing them: where they can be located and when they can be used. According to one of the legislators: “We’re a city of a million people. We have changed. There are certain things we just can’t do anymore. Firepits may very well be one of those things.” (Calgary Herald, 10/8)

The most contentious bonfire bans have to be those under consideration in Britain, where municipalities are beginning to address the environmental and safety problems caused by all the autumn bonfires that reach their climax in November on Guy Fawkes night. Though the ripples are few and far between, any challenges to this tradition, hallowed for centuries, are significant.

Times have changed—and if change means regulating people’s desire to set piles of debris on fire at will, I’m OK with it.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. Me, too, Elizabeth. Wood smoke causes a whole host of health problems, and not just for those who suffer from asthma or COPD. A fire fueled by modern-day trash adds a whole lot more toxins into the air. I think the vase majority of people would be up in arms if someone was spraying these pollutants directly into the air but for some reason, the charm of a wood fire obscures the concern. Regardless of the delivery, it’s still poison to our lungs.

    I learned from my contact at DEQ that the days of open burning may soon be over throughout the state of Oregon. I don’t know the full details of the legislative proposal, whether it’s completely written yet, when this will happen or whether the proposed legislature will survive in its original form but I can say that I’m looking forward to breathing a deep lungful of cleaner air.

  2. and soon charcoal grills will be outlawed……………..

    outdoor smoking already is banned in many parks so let’s take it one step further…………..

    ban braething

  3. “ban breathing.”

    Yeah, let’s go to the extreme. Who cares if it’s a necessity for living and the reason I’m a clean air advocate. Now if there was a way for those who want to smoke it up to keep their smoke to themselves, I’d have no problem with their activities. To paraphrase a Gallagher rant from the ’80’s: I don’t spit in your water, don’t smoke in my air.

  4. The next more logical step would be to ban fireworks and firecrackers which some places have already done. Or if you want a logical extreme, you could ban flying, driving and rocket launching or most production of electricity. Breathing helps clean the air by filtering out the crap with our lungs. It doesn’t make sense to ban breathing.

  5. Stupid is as stupid goes, Greg.

    As the world changes and populations grow, we as (supposed) intellectual beings should be evaluating our processes and how they impact our habitation.
    Evaluation and change is required if old traditions put our future lives in danger.
    This is simply smart evolution.
    If we retained some of our old traditional ways of livelihood just think where that would lead us: deforestation, loss of biodiversity, extinctions of species, imbalance of ecosystems and more perilous human health diseases.

    Intelligent forward thinking rather than staid stupidity in stubbornness of traditions.

    Change is needed for practical reasons.

  6. Yes. So how many of you are willing to give up your fireplaces? It is said that most of greenhouse gas emissions come from automobile fumes. It’s probably time to really think about hydrogen and electric cars as the maistream alternative to gas and force government to force industry to make these mandatory changes. We can follow the lead of Ithaca NY and begin the pod car network. I for one am not ready to give up the romantic idea of a fireplace however, and the fraction of greenhouse gas fireplaces bring is relatively small.

  7. So, what am I supposed to do with fallen trees and broken branches? Just let them lie, or wait for the gas-powered wood chipper crew to blaze through and take it away? And then do whatever they do with it? Burn it, compost it?

    I collect this kind of stuff, trim out the kindling, compost the leaves, split the logs in my tiny townhouse back yard, rack the wood, and merrily burn it in a covered firepit when the weather’s turned cold. Sometimes I haul it while car-camping.

    I grew up in a rural area, and we’d always taken care of our brush and debris. I live in the city now and understand that I have to do some things differently, but come on… I’m willing to bet my disposal methods are more conscientous than the city’s. I’m just sayin’.

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