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COW Quick Story: Geneva Aldermen Recommend New Rules for Fire Pits, 'Recreational' Burning

Geneva City Council Committee of the Whole recommends a draft ordinance in that will regulate recreational fires.

If you've got a fire pit in Geneva, you soon may be able to use it legally—so long as you understand and .

On Monday night, the Geneva City Council Committee of Whole recommended approval of a draft ordinance that will allow fire pits and other types of "recreational burning" within city limits.

The recommendation passed 7-2, with 5th Ward Alderman Craig Maladra and 4th Ward Alderman Ron Singer opposed.

The revised ordinance will allow the use of portable chimenea, permanent or stationary fire pits and barbecue grills—with limits. For the full ordinance, go to , but here are a few of the restrictions:

  • Fires can only take place between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m.
  • A fire pit will be limited to no more than 36 inches in diameter and 24 inches deep, and must be surrounded by a barrier that's at least 6 inches tall.
  • When you are burning "recreationally," the wind has to be less than 10 mph.
  • Fires have to be constantly attended by a person over the age of 18.
  • You can only burn untreated, unpainted, seasoned dry wood and manufactured fire logs. Propane and similar gases may be burned. Burning of processed wood is prohibited.

The fine for a violation can range from $50 to $750 and is up to the discression of the officer that issues a citation.

The council members agreed they would be willing to try the new ordinance for a year, and make changes if necessary.

"We have asked our city officers to make subjective judgments. This is what we pay them for, this is what they're hired for, I trust them to do that," 1st Ward Alderman Charles Brown said. "I think the wording is quite reasonable at this moment, and it's important that we're going to look at this again in a year."

Several prominent Genevans testified at the podium, for and against an ordinance change.

Fire Chief Steve Olson said he wouldn't offer his opinion on fire pits or whether the present ordinance should be amended, but he told the committee that the restrictions outlined in the draft ordinance "are reasonable."

Former Geneva Alderman Robert Langeness said his neighbors "saw fit to have a bonfire" one night and noted that many of the older lots in Geneva are just 50 by 100 feet. 

Former Geneva Park District Director Steve Persinger spoke in favor of fire pits. "I haven't had any complaints from my neighbors," he said. "And if you drive around town, you see a lot of fire pits."

Pat Jaeger, Geneva Township supervisor, argued that allowing recreational fires would infringe on the rights and quality of life of senior citizens. He said 5 percent of the population—many of whom are seniors—suffer from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.

"It does effect that segment of our population," he said.

Singer tried to make two amendments to the proposal. One was to require U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approval of all wood-burning devices purchased for use in Geneva. That died for lack of a second.

The other suggestion was to raise the minimum fine from $50 to $100. The amendment failed 8-1.

Maladra said he didn't buy the argument that the prevalence of fire pits was a reason to change the present ordinance. 

"It's sounds like they're saying, 'Because I am breaking the law, I want you to change the law,' which doesn't hold a whole lot of water with me," he said.

Third Ward Alderman Dawn Vogelsberg said a big challenge is and has been educating the public about the rules for open burning.

"I don't think people feel bound by an ordinance they don't know about," she said. "I'm not sure how to get the word out to people, but I think if they knew it was against the law, they wouldn't do it."

On the point of informing the public, Maladra agreed wholeheartedly.

"If we make this change," he said, "we've got a whole lot of teaching to do."

Mark K October 25, 2011 at 03:54 PM
Geneva City Officials…..Shame on You! To simply ignore all the scientific evidence on the Adverse Health Effects of Wood Smoke Inhalation that you have been provided is deplorable to say the least. The US EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), the American Lung Association, multiple Air Quality Control Agencies, Medical Doctors specializing in Pediatric, Pulmonary and Cardiovascular Medicine, all support the evidence of carcinogenic and toxic effects of wood smoke. According to the EPA, numerous scientific studies have linked wood smoke particle pollution exposure, which can penetrate deep into the lungs and bloodstream to a variety of problems, including : • Increased respiratory symptoms, such as irritation of airways, coughing, or difficulty breathing, • Decreased lung function, • Aggravated asthma, • Development of chronic bronchitis, • Irregular heartbeat, • Nonfatal heart attacks, and • Premature death in people with heart or lung disease
Mark K October 25, 2011 at 04:02 PM
There is no way to prevent wood smoke from crossing property lines. It hovers and surrounds homes, infiltrating through the most energy-efficient of closed doors, windows, walls and electrical outlets. The EPA estimates that a single fireplace operating for one hour, will generate 4,300 times more PAH’s than 30 cigarettes. PAH’s are carcinogenic. They also estimate that 70% of this wood smoke reenters the burners home as well as. neighborhood dwellings. You can avoid cigarette smoke, but thanks to Geneva City Officials, you now won’t be able avoid breathing contaminated air that’s being bombarded by your neighbor’s fireplace or fire pit. Exposing your children and family members is like giving them a carton of cigarettes and telling them all to chain-smoke. Some how the words to help, protect and serve your community, as part of your job description don’t seem to be appropriate for all those City Members that supported this very unfortunate decision.
James Parnell October 25, 2011 at 04:24 PM
Wow, if these statistics are correct than the city council should have given an across the board pay raise to every Geneva fireman. From what it says it is unlikely any will be around to collect a pension.
julie hillery October 25, 2011 at 04:24 PM
I must be missing something here. I thought the main complaint about fire pits was the smoke/health issue. In that regard, I fail to see how this ordinance addresses that. If I am reading the ordinance correctly, it is basically making it impossible for those of us with narrow lots to use our fire pits unless we stand in the middle of our yards! Furthermore, since chimneas are very much self-contained, it seems that they are a different animal than a fire pit/copper dish. We have burned our chimnea for years with no complaints from any neighbors. However, it looks like the first picture in this article is a pretty good depiction of what's to come for many of us. Anyone up for a flash-mob to a nearby parking lot so that we can light our fire pits???
Mike Garrity October 25, 2011 at 06:24 PM
Mark K....oh, man up. You sound like a silly alarmist...or Jeff Ward...whichever is less believable.
Rod Nelson October 25, 2011 at 06:55 PM
Question: Given what we know about the dangers of sub pm2.5 particles, does not this paragraph, de facto, prohibit fire pits? F. Odors and Fumes: Escape or emission from any source whatsoever of fumes or odors that are detrimental or injurious to the property, health, safety, comfort or welfare of inhabitants of the community is hereby declared to be a public nuisance, as determined by the City, and is punishable by a fine. The City may determine and order the extinguishment of any burning that creates a nuisance by the emission of smoke or noxious gases upon a neighboring property, or contributes to a hazardous condition to health or life safety.
Laurie October 25, 2011 at 08:39 PM
Agreed...as an asthmatic, might I show the City my inhaler script and get a permanent ban on my neighbor's fire pit?
Laurie October 25, 2011 at 08:45 PM
If we're going to educate people on this, why not highlight in the article that the burns are as follows: 1) No more than 4 hours total in any 24 hour period (How do we police this? Why so long? This ruins any chance I have of enjoying my backyard in the evening hours!) 2) Fire pits (built-in) must be 25 feet from any structure 3) portable fire pits must be 15 feet from any structure (Note: numbers 2 & 3 should eliminate some nuisance in-town fire pits on small city lots!)

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