Survey Participants Oppose Fire Ban, but Think We Can Do Better
Tuesday, September 06, 2016 12:00 AM

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Respondents overwhelmingly oppose banning recreational fires in St. Paul, according to a District 10 survey. But many survey participants say there should be more courtesy and education about the use and impact of “backyard fires.”

Recreational fires are legal in the City of St. Paul, if they meet certain conditions. These conditions include:

  • Fires can be no larger than 3 feet in diameter and 2 feet high. Fires larger than this require a burn permit.
  • Residents cannot burn garbage, paper products, leaves or grass clipping, plastics, treated lumber, or construction lumber in a backyard fire.
  • Fires must be at least 25 feet from any building or from any combustible material, unless they are in an approved container. Fires in a container must be at least 15 feet from a building or combustible material.
  • Fires must be attended until they completely burn out or are extinguished.
  • There must be a way to extinguish a fire, and someone present who knows how to use the extinguishing equipment.
  • If the fire poses a hazardous condition or produces obnoxious smoke or odors that cause a public nuisance, the fire department may order the fire extinguished.

The challenge with recreational fires is that smoke from the fires does travel into surrounding homes and can affect neighbors in the general area. Many survey participants pointed out that, to be good neighbors, residents should burn only clean, dry wood, or install a fire ring that uses natural gas.

On the other hand, burning green or wet wood, or burning leaves or other illegal material, produces more smoke and noxious fumes. These can be a particular risk to the elderly, young children, and those with chronic health issues. (Read an article on the health effects of wood smoke.)

The survey results
District 10’s Land Use Committee conducted the survey after a neighborhood resident, who has a chronic and serious respiratory disease, contacted the committee about the impact that recreational fires have on her health. 502 people took the online survey between Aug. 17 and Sept. 5. Links to the survey were available from District 10’s weekly email newsletter, from District 10’s website, and from Facebook postings.

Here are some results of the survey:

  • 16 percent of survey participants say they support a ban on recreational fires; 81 percent oppose a ban.
  • 20 percent of survey participants say they support limiting the number of recreational fires individuals can have in one year; 70 percent oppose such limits.
  • Nearly two-thirds of survey participants say they have recreational fires in their yard; slightly more than one-third do not. Among those who have fires, more than 99 percent oppose a ban. Among participants who do not have fires, 41 percent support a ban.
  • Nearly one-quarter of survey participants say smoke from recreational fires bothers them, and nearly as many say smoke affects their health. Of participants who say smoke bothers them, 71 percent support a ban; however, of participants who say smoke affects their health, only 44 percent support a ban.

Trying to make the situation better
More than 260 survey participants also left comments about recreational fires. Their comments highlight several themes and contradictions surrounding backyard fires:

  • The same fire that allows some neighbors to enjoy their private property prevents other neighbors from enjoying their property -- or enjoying nice weather -- and instead forces them indoors behind closed windows.
  • Fires can enhance community and friendship for some people, but cause health problems for others.
  • Current laws already outlaw burning trash, construction materials, or yard waste. But these laws are poorly enforced.

Many survey participants (including many who support fires) suggested that neighbors need to be more respectful of how fires impact others. They suggested that conflicts could and should be worked out courteously, face to face. Among their ideas:

  • Notify neighbors before you start a fire
  • Have fires only during colder times of the year
  • Do not have fires late at night
  • Pay attention to weather conditions -- including wind, air inversions, air quality alerts, and dry conditions – before deciding to have a fire
  • If you are bothered by fires, let neighbors who have fires know that fact

District 10 Como Community Council | 1224 Lexington Pkwy N, Saint Paul, MN 55103 | 651.644.3889 | district10 [at] district10comopark.org

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