Light ’em up.
Owners of fire pits in Brookfield no longer have to fear a visit from the police if they want to enjoy a fire in the backyard. Village trustees on Monday voted 5-0 to change a law that had outlawed them.
The new law requires that residents only burn seasoned hardwood, charcoal or propane/natural gas in the devices, which must be located at least 15 feet away from a building and no more than 3 feet in diameter and 2 feet high. The fire pits also need to be covered and cannot be used between the hours of 11 p.m. and 11 a.m.
Any fire pits that don’t comply with the new law, but previously were granted by a permit, are grandfathered and would only be affected if they were broken or changed.
The new law went into effect immediately upon passage Monday night, meaning it is in force for the July 4 weekend.
“I think this is a reasonable solution,” said Trustee Michael Garvey.
Previously, fire pits were banned outright in Brookfield. The village’s law regulating open burning was so restrictive that it also technically prohibited outdoor grills, though that was never enforced.
But if police received a complaint about someone using a fire pit in his backyard, an officer would pay a visit and either ask that person to extinguish the fire or, in the case of someone burning refuse in the fire pit, issuing a citation.
Brookfield police reported this spring that since 2010, officers had responded to more than 110 open-burning complaints and had issued more than 30 tickets.
It was a resident complaining to the village board in April about having his fire pit doused by police order that triggered a re-examination of Brookfield’s open-burning law. Fire pits are frequently used in Brookfield and some residents even obtained permits from the village to build them into their patios.
“I think it’s the board’s attempt to codify what’s happening now,” Garvey said. “It also comes back to how much government regulation at the local level do we need to have?”
Not everyone was pleased with the decision to allow fire pits. Susan Brooks, a resident whose husband suffers from a respiratory condition that is aggravated by smoke, said the village board ignored public health by allowing fire pits.
Brooks referred trustees to a statement made by Fire Chief Patrick Lenzi to the Landmark in April, regarding the impact of smoke from campfires on neighboring properties. Lenzi at the time acknowledged that smoke could affect people with medical conditions and that the village needed to be an advocate for them.
“You’re only advocating for people who are disappointed their fun is ruined,” Brooks said. “If you’re a parent of an asthmatic child watching them gasp for air, I’m sure that’s fun, too.”
Trustee Nicole Gilhooley asked whether a provision in the law prohibiting fires that create a hazardous condition or adversely affect neighboring properties could be enforced to remedy situations like the ones to which Brooks referred.
But Police Chief Steven Stelter said such conditions would likely not trigger a request to put out a fire.
“There are not a whole lot of situations that are going to constitute that,” Stelter said.
Trustee Michelle Ryan said the village board had to consider Brookfield as a whole in drafting its laws and said neighbors are going to have to communicate with one another to resolve potential issues.
“This is going to means neighbors are going to have to work together and speak to each other,” Ryan said. “No law is perfect. This is about the community as a whole.”