July 17, 2013 - Burning in Independence Township is still a hot issue despite a new permit policy approved last year.
Township Supervisor Pat Kittle said some residents are confused about what is and isn't regulated by it.
Kittle said Independence Fire Department was recently sent to an address in a medically restricted burn area where residents thought what they were burning was classified as "recreational." Under the policy, fires for cooking, toasting marshmallows, and other recreational uses in approved containers like screened burn pots, chimneys, and bricked and screened fire pots aren't regulated.
The residents were burning a log the size of a "brontosaurus bone," well in excess of six feet tall, the supervisor said.
Seasoned hardwood can be burned, but it is limited to 8-24 inches in length. Pressure treated lumber, ash, brush and leaves are prohibited and no accelerates are allowed on any fire.
The township's Medically Based Burn Permit Restrictions Policy bans certain kinds of burning within 400 feet of residents who have medical conditions aggravated by smoke.
The ban was designed to create medically restricted burning zones, eliminating open burning of leaves, brush, yard waste and uncontained bonfires that currently require a burn permit, said Kittle.
"This type of burning is banned in restricted zones due to the heavy smoke they produce," he said.
Residents must present the fire department with medical documentation of their condition. Five people in the township have records on file stating they have a respiratory condition irritated by smoke.
Independence Township Fire Department documents people with conditions, and sends letters to surrounding residents regarding the policy.
"Let's tweak the letter and do our homework on the ordinance," said Kittle. "Awareness of the health, safety and welfare of all Independence residents should be paramount for all township residents."
Exceptions can be made if the ill neighbors agree. If the neighbor with medical condition agrees to permit a bonfire in the otherwise restricted area, neighbors will be required to draft a signed agreement and submit it to the fire department.
Township Trustee David Lohmeier, who helped draft the policy, said people will always try to get around the rules.
"I applaud the effort, but let's try to make it more clear," Lohmeier said.
He also suggested putting the information on the township web site for residents to review.
Clerk Barb Pallotta, who objected to the ban when it was before the board last October, said she thinks the intent of the policy is good. But Pallotta said she would rather pass an ordinance rather than have a policy that's not enforceable.
"If we are challenged, and we are in court we'd actually have an ordinance not a policy that will support us," she said. "An ordinance has a little more clout than a policy."
If someone violates the medical burn ban policy, the fire department can issue a court appearance to the homeowner. The department can also issue a citation and a fine.
Ronk said there may be a grey area when it comes to campfires or bonfires, and the original burn ordinance needs to be redone because it is 20-years-old.
"I would like to see the ordinance reviewed," he said.
Trustee Andrea Schroeder said it's important the township board and fire department staff be on the same page about what is allowed under recreational burning.
An Independence Township resident afflicted with a respiratory condition told Kittle it was not recreational burning that aggravates her condition.
"It's the leaves, it's the brush, it's the fires with six feet of timber that seem to smolder to all hours of the morning," that cause irritation of the condition.
Kittle and staff will work with township attorney Steve Joppich on new verbiage before the original letter sent to residents on Jan. 3 is revised to include the new rules.
For more information, call 248-625-5111.