Cumberland council makes final revisions to fire pit ordinance

Cumberland council makes final revisions to fire pit ordinance

CUMBERLAND – Town Council members made some final revisions and then approved a new ordinance establishing requirements for outdoor recreational fireplaces last week, effectively legalizing backyard fires in town for the first time in modern history.

Scott Schmitt, ordinance subcommittee chairman, presented the changes to an ordinance that was initiated by Councilor Bob Shaw, saying he didn’t believe it would be a big lift for the council to get the new rules across the finish line at the Jan. 6 council meeting.

Here are the decisions made by the council within the ordinance:

• With a line prohibiting fireplaces at multi-family dwellings and at commercial and industrial properties, members edited it to keep only the prohibition at multi-family homes.

• After saying that there had been some discussion about revising the allowable timeframe for fires from 8 a.m. to midnight, the council ended up keeping that window as is.

• The council struck language prohibiting use of outdoor fireplaces both when wind speeds exceed 15 mph and when the air quality index is above 75, Shaw citing the difficulty in enforcing such specific parameters and saying that a change to allow police and fire to order a fire extinguished if they see a hazardous or objectionable situation covers both. Having the specific thresholds would make it difficult to enforce fines, he said. No jurisdiction or power is taken away from the chiefs, he said, reassuring resident Deborah Vine Smith.

• And with a line that required a distance of 20 feet between a fireplace and combustible material, the council added “flammable material” as well. Also, the fire chief may reduce the minimum required distance after inspection, with appropriate conditions, and shall put that permission in writing. Shaw said this is a good compromise solution, accommodating those who have an existing fire pit within 20 feet and built into their landscaping, and “perfectly safe.”

Answering a question on grass as a potential combustible material, officials responded that the fire chief or his representative would be able to make all determinations on unsafe situations when a complaint is made. Answering a question on the requirement of a fire pit being no bigger than 3 feet in diameter and 2 feet high, officials said that rule is specifically about the flame itself, not about the fire pit.

Shaw joked that there will be no official with a “fire pit measuring stick” walking around town, but this simply creates common sense rules to allow outdoor fires and give a way to respond when there is a complaint. Someone in his neighborhood has fires in the footprint of his former swimming pool, he said, and that’s what the town is looking to avoid.

Town Solicitor Kelley Morris Salvatore agreed that the rule is meant to prohibit bonfires, reiterating that it gives public safety personnel plenty of discretion in enforcement.

Councilor Peter Bradley voted against the ordinance, making it a 6-1 vote in favor. Bradley had suggested that the fire pit ordinance should coincide with the ordinance to avoid having public safety personnel respond once at 10 p.m. for a noise complaint and then again at midnight for a fire complaint. Police Chief John Desmarais said that scenario is possible, but he could also see officials responding to a noise complaint and shutting down a fire at that time.