Buckland mulls outdoor fire ordinance
BUCKLAND — When a neighbor plays music too loud at night and doesn’t lower the volume on request, you could call the police. But who do you call when a neighbor keeps a campfire going — even after being told the smoke is coming directly into your home?
“Noise and odors are nuisance issues,” resident Janet Sinclair told her selectmen recently. “If someone’s stereo is too loud, you could call police. But smoke isn’t just a nuisance odor, there are health issues for some people. I’m one of those people. This is not a small thing.”
After distributing copies of state law regarding public health nuisances, outdoor wood burning devices and a Department of Environmental Protection statement on the health and environmental effects of air pollution, Sinclair asked who in town is responsible to enforce these statutes.
Sinclair said a neighbor who routinely burns late-night wood campfires, about 20 feet from her property, has refused to put them out when asked to do so.
“Someone should be able to be in their house on a 90-degree night, and not have to smell burning smoke coming in,” said Sinclair.
Board of Health member Terry Estes said the board is currently reviewing a noncriminal disposition bylaw regarding open burning, which would enable the board to issue “tickets” to violators, but Estes said the health board would not be able to enforce it.
“The previous time we had a noncriminal disposition ordinance was something of a disaster — because I was the enforcement agent, and I ended up going to court all the time.”
That bylaw concerned a smoking ban on school property. Estes said he had to take time off work to be in court.
“We can’t go to the house at night and give someone a ticket,” he added. “If the police are on duty, they could go.”
Police Chief James Hicks said cooking fires are exempt from state rules against “open burning,” as it’s called in state law. He said if someone claims it is a cooking fire, the police have no clear recourse.
Hicks said open burning enforcement should be under the jurisdiction of the Fire Department, but Shelburne Falls Fire Chief Richard Bardwell said the two-town district isn’t currently set up to enforce what would be a Buckland town bylaw.
“I don’t have a review board set up to hear appeals,” he explained. “The fire district would have to have a noncriminal disposition bylaw for an appeal process.”
Sinclair asked why the Board of Health couldn’t simply write a letter, asking the residents who have camp fires to stop.
Estes said the board hasn’t received a formal complaint, citing specific names and an address, but could consider a letter after that has been done.
“I’m not speaking just for myself here,” said Sinclair. “There are others with the same complaint.”
“I have someone in my family who has asthma,” Selectman Robert Dean remarked, “and wood smoke is a big trigger.”
Besides town officials sending a letter to residents about open burning, selectmen said they could include information about open-burning regulations with the next set of town tax bills. Also, they may post the information on the town’s website.
You can reach Diane Broncaccio at:
or 413-772-0261, ext. 277