Bellevue changes burning law

Bellevue's proposed open burning ordinance is ready for final approval next week, after being amended to address concerns expressed by residents who attended a council meeting last month.

Only a handful of those residents were in attendance at Tuesday's pre-council meeting, where the new ordinance was presented.

In the newest version, residents who want to have a recreational fire in their back yards will not have to call the fire department in advance. Additionally, the size limitation for fire pits has been changed from one that regulated diameter to an area no more than nine square feet.

The ordinance also changes the distance open fires must be located from a structure or property line from 15 feet to 10 feet.

Despite the protests of some who would prefer the ordinance not pertain to grills at all, the five-feet distance requirement between a building and a grill remains in the new ordinance, but that restriction is in effect only when the grill is in use. Furthermore, residents who have built-in grills located closer than five feet to their homes can get special permission from the fire marshal to continue using the grills.

The ordinance also introduces a permit requirement that will involve inspection of the fire pit or other burning device and its location by the fire marshal. There will be no charge for the permit, which will good indefinitely as long as the person applying continues to reside at the same address.

Council member Jane Braunlich said that the ordinance protects everyone, burners and non-burners alike. It sets specific standards for what can be burned and where, so that complaining neighbors cannot interfere with a fire that is in compliance, she said. At the same time, it gives local officials the ability to eliminate fires that pose health and safety risks, Braunlich said.

Braunlich said that, in the last few months, Bellevue fire officials have had five calls for fires that would be illegal under this ordinance, including one in which an unattended grill was being used on a porch right next to combustible material, and others that involved residents burning improper items such as leaves or building materials.

She also argued that grills should not be excluded from the ordinance due to their potential for damage and injury. In one year, she said, grills accounted for $37 million in damages nationwide. During that same time period, according to Braunlich, 100 people were hurt and 10 were killed in grilling accidents.

Council member Mark Helbling said that council could not make laws regarding behavior that was just "common sense."

"I can't be in favor of any grill regulations," he said.

"It's not the responsible people that we're worried about," Braunlich said.

She reported that every municipality surrounding Bellevue has an ordinance containing similar -- and in some cases much stricter -- regulations on burning. Those communities include Avalon, Emsworth, West View, Ross and the City of Pittsburgh.

"We're in step with the other communities," she said.

Council approved the amendments in a 7-1 vote with Helbling opposed and Frank Camello absent.

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