Fire-pit hazards fuel rules change

San Francisco residents who gather around a fire pit in their backyard on foggy summer days could be slapped with a fine if they don’t pay for a permit from the Fire Department, under new rules proposed by Fire Marshal Barbara Schulthies.

Backyard blazes are a fire hazard and residents have complained about the smoke and embers that waft from portable pits, according to the Fire Department. But, opponents are doubtful of the hazards and wonder if the code would be overregulating city residents just trying to warm a chilly outdoor gathering.

A proposed regulation in the fire code would require an operational permit “for the kindling or maintaining of open burning, bonfires, recreational fires or the use of portable outdoor fireplaces on any public street, alley, road, or other public or private ground,” according to the draft document.

The permit could then be revoked by the fire marshal if a neighbor finds the “fire objectionable because of smoke emissions.” The proposed cost of the permit for open burning is $330. Violations usually range from $100 to $500.

The permit would be specific to portable outdoor fire pits, which provide a basin for a large open flame. The idea is not to regulate barbecues, according to Fire Department spokeswoman Lt. Mindy Talmadge.

“There’s a lot of concern about residents burning fires so close to each other,” Talmadge said. “San Francisco isn’t a sprawling place. It’s building against building.”

Also, the proposed rules would outlaw any open fire “within 15 feet of a structure, combustible material or property line.” 

The portable pits have grown in popularity as an inexpensive solution to permanent pits. They are usually made of metal and can be bought at stores such as Target or Home Depot for as low as $100. They accommodate large fires that can be open or covered with a grate.

While fire officials say the pits are fire hazards, they have yet to provide information on any fires that have started because of them. Talmadge said the department should have more information this week.

The idea wasn’t exactly received warmly by the Fire Commission, which needs to approve myriad changes to department guidelines every three years. Commissioner Victor Makras said the idea of charging people to have fire pits won’t prevent fires from happening.

“I don’t believe fires come from this, and I haven’t seen any evidence to contradict that belief,” he said.

The regulation wouldn’t be the first in the Bay Area when it comes to burning firewood. During Spare the Air days, Bay Area residents can be fined $400 for having a fire outside or in an indoor fireplace.

The fire-code regulations will go back before the commission this month. They would then need to be approved by the Board of Supervisors.


Fire starter

Details of proposal:

$330 Cost of proposed open-burning permit
$100 Citation for first offense
$200 Second offense
$500 Third offense

Source: Proposed San Francisco fire code

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