Hot question

This one hit the inbox last week but is still worth discussing till the weather gets really bad, since so many of us live the outdoor lifestyle as far into the year as we can:

I was at a party in West Seattle … The fire dept. was called because we were having a backyard fire. It was in a fire pit, had a cage around the fire, hose was nearby as well as a fire extinguisher.The fire dept. didn’t ask about any safety questions, just wanted to know if it was a cooking fire. They said if it’s a cooking fire it’s okay. Implying that if we weren’t cooking, it wasn’t okay. I guess a neighbor had complained and the fire dept. had to come check it out. My friends have had problems with this neighbor before. My question is: What’s the law in regards to fires in your yard? How much does is cost to fire up those trucks and go look into those complaints? They brought the big truck and there were 5 firefighters.

22 Replies to "Hot question"

  • villagegreen November 5, 2007 (7:20 pm)

    It’s true. As long as you have ‘the intent’ to cook something the fire is legal. Just keep a bag of marshmallows nearby and you should be fine.

  • Christopher Boffoli November 5, 2007 (7:53 pm)

    Outdoor fires in King County actually fall under the enforcement of the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency. But local firefighters have front-line jurisdiction to evaluate whether an outdoor fire is unsafe. As much of Seattle is both densely populated and arid for much of the year, you should use your own judgment as to whether or not an outdoor fire presents a hazard for you and your neighbors. Wood smoke is composed of fine particles and other carcinogens that are hazardous to human health. Even if the fire is safe, if the smoke crosses the property line it becomes an actionable nuisance. Fines for illegal fires typically start at $2,000 plus the cost to reimburse the fire department for its response efforts if they are called out.

    Land-clearing and trash-burning fires are pretty much universally banned in Washington. Recreational fires are defined in state law as cooking fires and charcoal barbecues, campfires and bonfires that occur in designated areas or on private property for cooking, pleasure or ceremonial purposes.

    Fires lit in chimineas, fire pits, fire bowls and similar free-standing devices, commonly sold at home-improvement stores and mass retailers, fall under this definition. They are allowed in both urbanized and unincorporated areas, though the following regulations apply:

    Keep it small. Fires must not exceed three feet in diameter or two feet in height.
    Fuel it right. Only charcoal, dried firewood or manufactured firelogs may be used. It is illegal to burn anything else.
    Stay clear of structures. Check with your local fire department regarding setback requirements.
    Stand guard and extinguish. A person capable of extinguishing the fire must attend it at all times, and the fire must be extinguished before leaving it.
    Ask first. Permission from a landowner, or owner’s designated representative, must be obtained before starting a recreational fire.
    Mind the ban. Recreational fires are always prohibited during air-quality burn bans. They may also be prohibited during a fire-safety burn ban (check with your local fire district.)
    Be a good neighbor. It is always illegal to smoke out your neighbor. If smoke from your fire bothers your neighbors, damages their property or otherwise causes a nuisance, you must immediately put it out.

  • Ron Burgundy November 5, 2007 (8:45 pm)

    Sounds to me like the fire isn’t the problem. It’s your relationship with your neighbor. Next time try inviting him over for a beer.

  • beef November 5, 2007 (9:12 pm)

    wheee. that was the problem, inviting them over for the beer. they didn’t know when enough was enough.

  • Kayleigh November 6, 2007 (7:46 am)

    Some mornings I come home from a run and my nose bleeds due to all the woodsmoke (doesn’t happen when the air is clean). I hate the smell of burning anything and it’s not good for the environment.

  • JumboJim November 6, 2007 (10:07 am)

    I doubt BBQ grills and such aren’t nearly the problem that brush and trash burning is. If you want to cook you really just want some coals and not a lot of smoke.

    Using the excuse that you intend to cook something when all you want to do is burn stuff is just wrong and probably wouldn’t fool the fire dept. I’m sure they’ve seen such shenanigans before.

  • Peter November 6, 2007 (11:41 am)

    I’ve had similar concerns about building a small fire in my yard; however, most of my neighbors are cool so I never really anticipated a ‘narc’ problem. That said, obviously ‘narcs’ don’t respond well to being ‘smoked out’, so it may be dicey to offer them beer(s) as a solution. I’d suggest keeping some hot dogs or a ceremonial head-dress (or virgin) nearby. In summary: people who run in the morning should probably not be listened to.

  • JumboJim November 6, 2007 (11:49 am)

    Yeah right Peter. And where is this mythical place where one finds ceremonial head dresses or more elusive yet, a virgin??

  • Nic November 6, 2007 (12:07 pm)

    Ron is correct. I was told by a Representative from PSCAA that if your neighbor doesn’t like the fire (or you, my comment) you can’t have a fire.

  • dolly November 6, 2007 (12:31 pm)

    When did we all get so wussy that smoke from a small outdoor fire is so horrible?

  • Praying Man-tis-i November 6, 2007 (1:00 pm)

    Kayleigh may want to respond to your question, dolly. I’m interested in hearing her response.

  • JumboJim November 6, 2007 (1:45 pm)

    Get a clue dolly. Do the math. Take a city of 1/2 a million. Add the smoke from even 1 percent of people burning trash if it was allowed. That equals one heck of a lot of air pollution, especially when people don’t have the sense to distinguish between things that are not so bad to burn, i.e. wood, and those which aren’t, such as plastic, etc. This is all added to the smoke from legal sources such as fireplaces.

    If you’ve ever been camping in a national forest and looked at a fire ring you’d see what kind of crap people like to throw in a fire – every kind of junk imaginable.

    As far as safety goes, if you think most people use good sense burning stuff in an urban area go ask the local fire department what they think. I’m sure they have a lot of entertaining stories.

  • JumboJim November 6, 2007 (1:52 pm)

    Get a grip dolly. Just do the math. Take a city of half a million. Add in the smoke form just one percent of people burning stuff outside if it was allowed. That’s gonna add up to a heck of a lot of air pollution, added to the existing smoke from legal sources such as fireplaces.

    To make matters worse most people don’t distinguish between things that are not so bad in a fire, such as wood, and things which aren’t, such as plastic. If you’ve ever been camping outside a state park you’ve seen the debris left in a fire ring. People throw all kinds of crap in a fire just to watch it burn (or melt).

    As far as safety goes just ask the local fire dept. I’m sure they have a lot of stories that will make you shake your head.

  • dolly November 6, 2007 (3:20 pm)

    I’ll gt a grip. It’s just sad that people can’t have a small outdoor fire with their friends without their neighbor’s calling the authorities on them. Maybe their neighbors were also assuming they were buring all kinds of plastic instead of the wood they probably were.

  • CMP November 6, 2007 (3:38 pm)

    I think your neighbor is the problem! If burning a fire in a covered fire pit were illegal, why does Target sell those things? These people were acting responsibly and to have the Fire Dept called is ridiculous.

  • Peter November 7, 2007 (1:23 am)

    Ok first off, morning jogger Kayleigh (if that is you’re real name?), nobody except old school PNW people burn fires first thing in the morning so either stop claiming to jog in the morning with a residual bloody nose, doing drugs, or just move back to Florida. Jimbo, numbers aren’t math. Get some meat and do the calcs (1% of .5mil is just 5k=yeah!). For those who want to build fires, don’t: burn trash like you do in the National Forests, infuriate neighbors who insist on keeping their windows open, and sacrifice virgins. Ceremonial head-dresses can be obtained from either your local church or pre-school.

    “Happy Thanksgiving!” – Ed Ved (to a group of people in November, 1995)

  • Kayleigh November 7, 2007 (4:36 am)

    Of course I don’t post under my real name because of people like you. And I was born and raised here.

    I run during the weekend in the fall and winter mid-mornings, and the air in this neighborhood is often foul by about 10 am as people wake up and put crap in their stoves and fireplaces. I haven’t seen people having a fire in their backyard (how stupid is that in the city?) but the air quality is sometimes crappy nonetheless.

    I’ll be sure and tell my 7-year-old cousin that he’s just being a “wuss” when he has an asthma attack when the air quality is bad.

    Why do you think they have “burn bans”? Because some people suffer health problems (far worse than nose bleeds) when the air quality goes bad.

  • Christopher Boffoli November 7, 2007 (11:29 am)

    I’m with Kayleigh. Open fires in Seattle’s increasingly dense neighborhoods are a bad idea. And there is good science to support the real damage that unnecessary burning does to air quality.

  • dolly November 7, 2007 (8:45 pm)

    What neighborhood in West Seattle has mass people using woodstoves and fireplaces by 10 am? Silly me, I thought most people were at work at 10 am, not burning fires in their fireplaces and woodstoves.

    I think I can speak for most people that you’re exaggerating a bit, or else very very very sensitive to anything in the air.

    When there is a burn ban, then yes, people shouldn’t burn anything, be it in their fireplaces, woodstoves (unless that’s their only source of heat), and outdoor fireplaces. But when there is good air flow, then, really. Settle down. I’m a liberal, a compulsive/obsessive recycler, but every once in a while like to have a good old fashioned fire in my backyard, in my outdoor fireplace.

    I dunno. If I was so sensitive that I got nosebleeds from jogging in the middle of the morning from a few people having a fire in their homes, I’d probably look into getting treadmill.

  • Peter November 9, 2007 (1:38 am)

    dolly’s right. it comes down to exaggeration and/or manipulation of facts. kayleigh, (that is not your real name!) i apologize for for poking fun at you 7-year old cousin; however, if it was you’re own child it might have some relevance to the argument: btw my son has asthma, i smoke, and i have chronic bronchial problems…so might point is…well, an outdoor fire is kind of nice every now and then. that’s all.

    wait no, also, i’m still looking into the math, but i’m pretty sure the emissions of a handfull of fires (5k) don’t even compare to the dingdongs driving scooters or poorly engineered british motorcars up and down california ave. my real point is: everyone seems to have relatively petty gripes. support the troops in iran!

  • Peter November 9, 2007 (1:41 am)

    CB, ‘good science’?!

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