The issue over backyard fire pits in Whitehall Borough is coming to a head.
Borough Manager James E. Leventry said that a draft ordinance regarding fire pits is being prepared and may be made available to the Whitehall Council before its next meeting—Feb. 20.
While the new Whitehall ordinance might not be enacted for some time after that, the borough council could start discussing the pros and cons of the draft after being presented with it.
Fire pits were a major topic of discussion at the council's June 20 meeting when some council members admitted to personally enjoying pits while, at the same time, acknowledging why other residents might not.
Councilman Philip Lahr said at the time, for example, that residents have told him that they can't open their windows when a neighbor starts a fire (due to the smoke).
Councilman Glenn Nagy opined that some residents are perhaps just as (if not more) concerned with the "beer-infused noise" that often accompanies the use of backyard fire pits as they are with the smoke.
Leventry said that the new ordinance being drafted for Whitehall will mirror Hampton Township's ordinance regarding open fires and open burning, "with a few tweaks."
According to the Hampton Township website, Hampton allows for "the use of 'small open fires' such as grills, outdoor barbeques, fireplaces or similar devices to cook food with charcoal, natural gas, or wood; or any other fire from which the properties of combustion are emitted directly into the air without first passing through a 'structural chimney.'
"An adult property owner may authorize and allow on his or her property small open fires solely for the purposes of:
- Warmth of outdoor workers (only at temperatures below 40-degrees Fahrenheit); and
- Non-commercial preparation of food for human consumption, light, ornament, or recreation."
Restrictions exist in Hampton regarding sizes of fires, as well as locations.
As the website states, "Fire pits can be no larger than 4 feet in diameter and no less than 18 inches deep.
"In all cases, the fire must be completely contained within the perimeter of the authorized receptacle. In no case may the combustible material and flame be greater than 16 square feet in area or higher than 3 feet. Also, you may not allow or maintain a fire that creates excessive smoke, excessive odor, or malodorous emissions. Smoke and odors will be considered excessive if they are perceptible beyond the property line of the source of the fire.
"Grills, outdoor barbeques or fireplaces used strictly for cooking shall be a minimum of 10 feet from a house, structure, inhabited area, roadway, utility or property line. In all other cases, the fire shall be located a minimum of 15 feet from the nearest house, structure, inhabited area, roadway, property line, utility, trees or other combustible materials."
In Hampton, "Any police officer or other duly authorized law enforcement officer of the township may, upon investigation, order that any fire be immediately extinguished, abated, diminished, or corrected (in his or her sole discretion) if, in the officer's sole judgment, the fire:
- is emitting excessive smoke, excessive odor or malodorous emissions;
- contains prohibited materials or is using a prohibited containment device;
- is in a prohibited location or size;
- is emitting sparks or hot ashes that may pose a threat."
You can read guidelines for legal open burning in Hampton here.
"The intent is not to eliminate fire pits," Whitehall Councilman and newly elected Public Safety Committee Chair William J. Veith said in an interview, "but to provide common courtesy to our residents when they are in use.
"Besides the safety committee, we had input from our police and fire chiefs."
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