Brookfield’s open-burning ordinance is sure to get some kind of update this summer, but whether it will actually allow backyard fire pits is still unclear, following a discussion of the subject at the village board’s Committee of the Whole meeting on May 25.
Just three residents voiced their opinions about the subject, with two of them strongly urging trustees to keep its ban on the popular campfire pits in place.
“Literally, at times we’ve felt like prisoners in our own houses,” said Brookfield resident William Steineke, “having to shut the windows or end up coughing and having to smell the neighbor’s fire. It’s a problem.”
Steineke called the backyard fires a nuisance and disputed some contention that the campfires were no different than the smoke emitted by fireplaces through chimneys. He also said fire pits were dangerous and that he’d seen people on numerous occasions pouring gasoline or lighter fluid to ignite the fires.
“The number of news stories of horrific accidents across the country since this fire pit craze started — since Home Depot and Menard’s started marketing them — is quite extreme,” Steineke said. “I fear it’ll only be a matter of time until it’ll end badly in the Loyola burn unit.”
Meanwhile, Allan Goodcase, another Brookfield resident, also called on the village board to keep its fire pit ban in place.
“I love the smell of a campground, but I like it at the campground,” said Goodcase, who added that the smoke from fire pits can “envelope the area.”
The village board decided to take up the issue of fire pits after another Brookfield resident, Greg Gates, brought up the issue in April after police ordered the family’s fire pit doused in response to a complaint.
One of the issues regarding the village’s open-burning ordinance, which was last updated in the 1970s, is that it appears to restrict any type of open burning unless that burning is done inside an Illinois EPA-approved device. A strict reading of the ordinance appears to prohibit the use of grills, as well.
In response, the Brookfield Police Department sought out ordinances from neighboring communities in order to craft a new ordinance that allowed fire pits but kept in mind their potential as neighborhood nuisances.
A draft ordinance presented to the village board on May 25 mandates that only dry, seasoned wood could be burned in fire pits and that fire pits could not be located within 15 feet of a frame structure or 10 feet of a masonry structure.
It also calls for fire pits to be above-ground and be monitored by someone who is at least 18 years old while in use. In addition, the draft law calls for a fire extinguisher to be located nearby.
Finally, the law states that “no outdoor fireplace shall be used if it constitutes a threat to the health, safety or welfare of neighbors or the surrounding area.”
“We were looking to come up with an ordinance that was clear, concise and doesn’t leave anything to interpretation,” said Police Chief Steven Stelter.
Brookfield police are the ones who typically respond to open-burning complaints. The Landmark reported in April that police since 2010 have responded to more than 100 open-burning complaints and have issued more than 30 citations.
Police enforce the village’s open-burning ban on a complaint basis, typically from neighbors.
Gates, who characterized his backyard fire pit as a neighborhood gathering spot, remains puzzled about the complaint that ended with police telling him to douse the flames.
“Anyone in my neighborhood, if they want to complain about the fire, I’d be glad to take it down,” said Gates, who wanted to be sure that the complaint about his fire pit was from a neighbor and not from a random passerby from another neighborhood.
“I don’t get to know where the complainant is,” Gates said. “Just because you walked by and you live eight blocks away doesn’t mean I’m a nuisance to you all the time.”
Despite Stelter’s call for a law that would take interpretation out of the game for police responding to complaints, Trustee Michael Garvey wondered if the language of the draft ordinance would do the opposite.
“Is that enough clarity?” Garvey asked.
Stelter replied that police would still have to make judgement calls on whether the fire was a nuisance based on the complaint.
Among possible solutions were calls to limit the hours for fire pits so that they aren’t in use late into the night and mandating covers that extinguish the fires after use.
Village President Kit Ketchmark suggested that trustees contact village staff with questions or comments, while Village Manager Keith Sbiral said he would contact each trustee individually on the matter.
Goodcase, meanwhile, reiterated his call that the fire pits be banned.
“I think there’s a need to keep a comprehensive ordinance in place to protect the quality of life in town,” Goodcase said.
The subject could be up for another discussion at the village board’s next meeting on June 8.