It is my understanding that the Village Board is considering adopting a new ordinance that would allow residents to burn wood in their yards if they adhere to certain safety procedures. But, safety issues are only a small part of the problem of backyard recreational fires. The main concern should be the health issues related to smoke emissions from the fires.
The Surgeon General has determined that no amount of exposure to wood smoke is safe. If you smell even a subtle odor of smoke, you are being exposed to poisonous and carcinogenic chemical compounds. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency lists carbon monoxide, benzene, formaldehyde, methane, and black carbon among the toxic pollutants released into the air by a wood fire.
I note that even the people who are “enjoying” the fire tend to move their chairs out of the path of the smoke. Unfortunately, I cannot move my house so easily.
Clearly, the long-term effects of breathing wood smoke are harmful to anyone, but to those residents with respiratory health issues, it is an immediate disaster. Residents of Brookfield with asthma, emphysema, or severe allergies are particularly at risk.
Personally, my husband and I both have an allergy to smoke, although his is more severe than mine. If a neighbor decides to utilize a fire pit, the smoke permeates our house, garage, and vehicles. Even with the doors and the windows closed, the smoke seeps in.
This is not just a minor annoyance or an infrequent problem. The issue has caused us emotional stress, a loss of sleep, and the inability to relax and enjoy our own home.
Our next-door neighbor was having fires up to five nights per week. We tried talking to him about the issue, but he was not willing to stop lighting the fires or reduce their frequency. The problem was so extreme that we began searching for a new home.
Luckily for us, we realized that the Village Code prohibits these fires. So, we began to call the police when smoke from our neighbor’s fires entered our home. The police department was inconsistent in its handling of the situation, but eventually, and after many calls and visits, we were able to convince one officer to write a citation.
After the citation was upheld and the fine collected, our neighbor has stopped having fires and we can finally breathe easy. Based on the assumption that we now had protection from the smoke, we decided to stay in our home and make a substantial investment in improving our property.
If you adopt the proposed changes to the village code, we will lose this protection, along with the tens of thousands of dollars that we used to renovate and improve our home.
People with health concerns and respiratory illnesses will have no options when it comes to safeguarding themselves and their homes. The ordinance is very clear as it is now written that all outdoor burning is banned.
I do, of course, understand that the current ordinance does not stop people from having fires. Many residents are not aware of the ban, or that they may be causing distress to their neighbors. But, “people do it anyway” is not a reason to strike down a law. If drivers repeatedly run through a stop sign, is the solution to take down the stop sign?
No, I don’t expect the police to patrol the alleys, looking for people with fire pits. But, when there is a complaint, the police need to respond, and there should be no question as to whether the fire is legal or not.
If there is a concern that the ordinance, as written, technically prohibits the use of grills, I would support an amendment to the current ordinance that exempts propane and charcoal grills for the purpose of cooking food. That is the only change that makes sense.
We live in a dense, urban community, where mere feet separate properties. The existing ordinance makes perfect sense given the type of community in which we live. We should not be seeking to emulate the laws of neighboring communities, many of which allow burning; other local governments should be following our progressive lead. Please demonstrate your commitment to the wellbeing of the residents that you are here to serve. Vote against the proposed changes to the open burning ordinance.