While researching general trends in gardening for 2008, I found that outdoor fire pits were (forgive me) hotter than ever. Paradoxically, though, the same search engine results that yielded this hype also produced sober warnings about how wood-burning fire pits and outdoor fireplaces were an increasing source of air pollution—as well as fire hazards (which they’d always been). So, as more consumers buy fire pits and outdoor fireplaces than ever before, more communities are trying to regulate their use. To wit:
St. Clair, Michigan: An ordinance has long prohibited open burning, “defined as the burning of any materials in which products of combustion are emitted directly into the air without passing through a stack or chimney from an enclosed chamber.” (12/12/07)
Kernersville, North Carolina: “No open burning of any type is allowed within the town limits because of the drought that has affected the area, North Carolina and the Southeast this year.” (12/17/07)
Watertown, Wisconsin: “Under the proposed ordinance, any resident who takes part in burning outdoors—including those with commercial fire pits—is now required to obtain a permit from the city clerk’s office for a $5 fee. The ordinance also requires that fires cannot be located less than 10 feet from any property line and less than 20 feet from any building or structure.” (1/03/08)
Lockport, New York: “Lockport Common Council followed the request of Fire Chief Thomas Passuite to prohibit outdoor wood burning firepits, fireplaces, fire bowls, chimeneas or any similar device. The Council also banned outdoor furnaces or boilers.” (7/04/07)
In California, Arizona, and other wildfire-prone states, even indoor fireplaces and wood-burning stoves face regulation and seasonal prohibition.
There’s an organization devoted to this problem: Burning Issues. From their site: According to the American Lung Association, in addition to particulate matter air pollution, wood smoke emissions contain components such as carbon monoxide; various irritant gases such as nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, hydrochloric acid and formaldehyde; and chemicals known or suspected to be carcinogens, such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and dioxin.
In Buffalo, where I live, you can’t burn anything outside. You can use your grill or your outdoor kitchen, and that’s it. Which is fine by me. We have four seasons here. If it’s cold, you put on a jacket or go inside. In the winter, an outdoor fire’s not going to help you. In the summer, it’s too hot for one. I think we should take the weather as it comes and not try to heat the outside (more than we already are). What’s next? Air conditioners outside? If people need the spectacle of flames, there are emission-free and possibly sustainable ways to produce them.
And yet. It’s not just nostalgia for rural bonfires and maybe vague memories of the Campfire Girls song. We resist regulation. I found this comment (and many like it) on one of the websites where a leaf burning ban was being discussed: “I love in the fall when all the leaves are gathered up and burned. I love the smell and the sun shining through the smoke. I can’t wait until idiots like these ban everything and we cover the world in little white padded rooms that we can live in and eat tasteless low calorie food and there are no more beautiful things in life.”
I can understand missing leaf fires, I guess, though I haven’t seen one in years. But I have less sympathy for fire pits and—I really hate this name—chimeneas. What do you think, GR readers? Are outdoor fire bans more loathsome evidence of the nanny state or sensible protections of our lungs and property?