Grill fire follows ordinance veto

Just two days after Mayor George Doscher vetoed an ordinance that would regulate the placement of grills in the borough, a fire caused by a malfunctioning propane grill threatened the childhood home of one of the ordinance’s opponents.

The ordinance, adopted earlier this month by Bellevue Council, primarily addresses recreational burning that involves the use of devices such as fire pits and chimineas, regulating the size and location of the devices, as well as what types of materials may be burned to eliminate the danger of excessive and/or toxic smoke. In that regard, the ordinance is similar to those in effect in every community surrounding Bellevue and open burning regulations imposed by Allegheny County.

Bellevue’s ordinance also clarifies what solicitor Tom McDermott says is at least implied by the county rules, namely, the use of grills involved in food preparation. Under the ordinance, grills must be placed no less than five feet from a combustible surface such as a house. An exception is made for grills in which the manufacturer’s recommendations allow for placement closer than five feet.

Doscher vetoed the ordinance on June 19, stating that the county regulations had been sufficient for Bellevue in past years, and that the grilling regulations were unnecessary.

His veto came two days before a grill caught on fire on the back deck of a home at 567 Orchard Ave., the home where Bellevue Council member Mark Helbling grew up, and which is currently owned by his sister.

Helbling has consistently voted against the ordinance because of the grilling regulations.

According to the fire report, the gas line on the grill was broken, and the grill was placed against a wood privacy fence on a wood deck. Part of the deck caught fire, the report said, although the homeowner was present and responded before the fire could spread to the entire deck or the adjacent frame house.

The incident does not change Helbling’s position on the ordinance, however.

“She made a mistake,” Helbling said of his sister’s placement of the grill against a fence, although it was, he said, located 12 feet from the house.

The problem with the ordinance regulations, Helbling said, is that too many residents would be prohibited from using grills if the five-feet distance is the standard.

“There’s so many unique situations,” Helbling said of backyard grills in Bellevue. “I don’t know how to make it right.”

The ordinance does contain a provision that grills can be placed closer than five feet if the manufacturer deems it safe to use the grill at a lesser distance, or the fire marshal approves its placement.

Council president Linda Woshner said that the issue of whether to override the mayor’s veto will be considered at the July 3 council meeting. Meanwhile, opponents plan to hold a “grill-athon” either protesting or celebrating council’s decision on July 12, from 9 a.m. until noon, at an undetermined location.

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