Legislation would change outdoor cooking fire laws

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Councilman Steve Stycos is sponsoring an ordinance to change the city’s laws on outdoor fires at residences. The new rules were drafted in conjunction with the Cranston Fire Department, Stycos said.

The ordinance committee will vote on this new proposal at its Dec. 7 meeting.

Councilman Stycos said that he was prompted to draft new legislation after one of his constituents told him that a neighbor was burning a fire within a few feet of her apartment’s property line and the smoke was getting into her apartment and affecting the asthma and lung problems of her and the fellow occupant. Stycos said he looked at the properties and saw that the neighbors were “burning very close to the property line” and there was also “large trees” nearby.

Under current fire laws, which have been in an ordinance for many years, no recreational fires are allowed in the city, like a summer bonfire in a fire pit. Cooking fires, however, are allowed without any stipulations.

The new proposal would allow fires if residents follow these rules, taken from the ordinance on the city council docket online:

l Cooking of food on barbecues, fireplaces or grills shall be at least 10 feet from the property lines of each adjacent owner

l All cooking or fire features must be contained in an enclosures that is constructed from brick, masonry, metal or other non-combustible material

l No trash, leaves, stumps, treated, pained or varnished or otherwise coated lumber or material shall be burned

l An adult must be in attendance at all times the fire is burning

l Fires authorized by the Fire Department for the purpose of training firefighters and retarding the spread of fires.

“The original was all about fire pits,” Councilman Stycos said. “This is all about cooking.”

Deputy Chief of Fire Prevention Stephen MacIntosh added that he would suggest changing “fire is burning” to “cooking equipment in use,” since people typically do pig roasts or smoked meats in non-flame devices, like a smoker.

He also said that an issue might arise in cooking structures already in place that are within ten feet of a neighbor’s property line. It’s impossible to move some of these structures in place, he said, and the existing structures in people’s yards should be allowed to remain in use, although going forward they can be built farther than 10 feet from neighbor’s property lines.

As for the enforcement of the laws, Macintosh said that ordinances fall under police jurisdiction, but the fire department inevitably gets called when a neighbor is complaining about fires.

“We respond [to calls] and have a conversation with the person who’s burning and educate them about the rules,” he said. “Many times we find folks that are cooking, so we walk away and tell them to be careful…It’s a little bit of a tug of war when you’re trying to referee the problem.”

He said that this new ordinance is trying to better define the cooking aspect of outdoor grilling, since that is the only type of outdoor fire allowed. Fires not used for cooking will remain banned.

After the wording is potentially changed based on Macintosh’s concerns and a vote is taken by the ordinance committee, the ordinance could go to a December City Council vote.

Generally, an ordinance is enforced only when the department receives a complaint from a neighbor. If this new ordinance is passed then neighbors will have more of a case to plead when they do file complaints.

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