What’s your guess on how many homeowners in Brookfield have fire pits in their backyards?
Dozens? Hundreds? There’s no way to know without walking through every alley in the village and adding them up. We do know that on the east side of the 3400 block of Sunnyside Avenue there are three properties within a span of six that have fire pits.
Let’s agree to say that while no one knows exactly how many fire pits there are, there are a lot of them. And their owners use them, mostly without complaint, all the time.
And yet, Brookfield doesn’t allow them. Actually, looking at the Brookfield law that’s on the books, you can’t ignite anything outside without placing it into an approved Illinois Environmental Protection Agency container. Suffice to say, a Weber grill isn’t approved.
What that means, technically, is that your neighbor could call the cops if they didn’t like the smell of those steaks cooking on the grill. A strict reading of the law doesn’t allow grilling.
Which is, of course, nuts. Unless you placed your grill directly underneath your neighbor’s bedroom window, no one’s going to complain about it. And because the village only enforces the open burning law on a complaint basis, you don’t see many, if any, complaints of that type.
But fire pits are different. While even the IEPA states that “campfire” — and we think a strong argument can be made that a fire pit is nothing less than a campfire — is permitted on private property without a permit, Brookfield’s law is more restrictive.
As a result, homeowners are left tempting fate. For 15 years, Greg and Vicki Gates tempted fate (probably without knowing it) and enjoyed many gatherings around their backyard fire pit.
A couple of weeks ago someone called the cops, and the family tradition was unceremoniously doused (as was a neighbor’s a couple doors down).
Village officials appear to moving toward revisiting Brookfield restrictive law on open burning, and we think that’s appropriate.
First, no one wants people using fire pits to burn trash or any other kind of refuse. To be sure, the kind of smoke resulting from such burning is acrid and potentially harmful. Anyone doing so ought to be ticketed and ordered to stop.
But using a fire pit, provided it is a reasonable distance away from neighboring homes (that’s something that’ll have to be written into whatever revised ordinance the village hopefully will come up with) we don’t see why such “campfires” shouldn’t be allowed.
Provided the homeowner is burning untreated hardwood, we don’t see a difference between fire pits and fireplaces, which are welcome in the village. If there’s a neighbor whose health is impacted by such burning, some accommodation should be made to make sure that person is not harmed. An amended law could also provide accommodations for those instances.
Brookfield last examined its law on open burning back in 1971. Since that time, campfires have come a long way. Have another look.