Where There is Smoke...

December 14, 2015

Fire has been a part of life from prehistoric days. It has been used to generate heat, cook food and power machinery. Many people get comfort from the flicker of candles while others get enjoyment  from sitting around a fire, outdoors or in. The aroma of wood smoke is a pleasure for many people. However, for others, wood smoke can cause serious breathing problems. In Connecticut, It is not illegal to have campfires, fire pits or chimineas. However, there are rules and guidance that should be followed. You may not be affected by wood smoke, but your neighbor could be.   This health district gets many complaints during the winter months about smoke from burning.

There are two categories of wood burning that the public may use. The first type has been called “casual burning” and includes campfires, bonfires, fire pits, chimineas or other wood burning devices. This is called open burning. The second category is burning to produce heat and generally refers to outdoor wood burning furnaces and wood stoves. This column will address casual burning. 

The CT DEEP (CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection) defines open burning as the burning of any matter in such a manner that the products of the burning are released directly into the surrounding air without passing through a stack or flue. This action pollutes the air and can make it difficult for people with respiratory problems to breathe, particularly for those in densely populated areas. Open burning can create nuisance odors and smoke that may adversely affect your neighbors.  The law In Connecticut states that the burning of wood in a campfire, bonfire, chiminea or other similar devices is prohibited if the burning creates a nuisance for neighbors or is in violation of any restrictions imposed on such burning by your town.  A nuisance is defined as an unreasonable, unwarranted or unlawful use of one’s property in a manner that substantially interferes with the use or enjoyment of another individual’s real property without an actual trespass or physical invasion to the land. Complaints about casual burning may be directed to your local fire marshal. Nuisance complaints about health effects created by burning are generally handled by the local health department.

Campfires and/or bonfires are not defined by state statute or regulation; however, some towns have special requirements to conduct this type of burning and may require the homeowner to obtain a permit prior to having a campfire on his or her property. Special requirements may include: limiting the size of such fires; setback distances from structures and/or property lines; lot size; and requiring campfires and/or bonfires to be permitted.  It is not the intention of the state to take away the enjoyment you seek from sitting around your fire pit. Rather, the objective is to have open burning be safe and not create a nuisance or health hazard for your neighbors. There are some rules you can follow to burn wiser and safer which will help you to prevent creating a nuisance.

  • Always check with the fire marshal in your town about the rules for burning. Some district towns require permits for bonfires and certain types of campfires.
  • Limit the size of your fires and try to set it away from your neighbor’s house, especially from their windows.
  • Burn only clean, non-processed wood that has been seasoned. Wet or green wood produces more smoke.  Do not burn wood pallets, construction debris, painted wood, stained/treated wood, plastic, Styrofoam, furniture, leaves, dung or garbage. (Non-processed wood is defined as any untreated natural wood.) If you purchase manufactured logs, choose those made from 100% compressed sawdust (EPA recommendation.)
  • Small hot fires produce less smoke than smoldering fires.
  • Avoid burning on poor air quality days.
  • Remember personal safety when burning. Always supervise your fire. Do not let it burn overnight.

If you plan on enjoying outdoor fires this winter, be considerate of those who live around you. This will help to prevent visits from the fire marshal and the health department, should your neighbors complain. Remember to check with your fire marshal regarding permits. District residents who would like written materials can call Quinnipiack Valley Health District, 203 248-4528 or request on line, www.qvhd.org  The information can also be accessed at the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), search “open burning.”