Fouts: Outdoor fires ‘pitting neighbor against neighbor’

By: Brian Louwers | Warren Weekly | Published April 23, 2021

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WARREN — The debate over outdoor burning in Warren was still smoldering, a week after the City Council passed an ordinance permitting and governing “reasonable” backyard fires at residential homes.

After council members unanimously passed an ordinance amendment that would permit the burning of dry, seasoned wood in approved pits or containers at residential properties, Mayor Jim Fouts vetoed it. But council members could vote to override the veto at their next regular meeting on April 27. An override would require five of seven votes to pass.

Calling attention to the recognition of “Earth Day” on April 21, Fouts said permitting open burning would contribute to greenhouse gasses and climate change.

“This is the exact opposite of what Earth Day is about,” Fouts said.

The mayor citied a list of other concerns, including the release of carcinogens and a potential adverse effect it would have on people with health problems including asthma, bronchitis and other heart or respiratory ailments.

“I remind you that your right to burn ends where my nose begins,” Fouts said.  

He questioned the 1 a.m. cutoff time for burning included in the ordinance and said Warren’s fire commissioner indicated enforcement of the ordinance would “end up pitting neighbor against neighbor.”

“Firefighters’ jobs are to put out fires, not put out fires between warring neighbors over open pit fire burning until 1 a.m.,” Fouts said.

He appealed to the City Council to support his veto “and support the right of every citizen in Warren to sleep free of smoldering smoke hazards!”

The City Council approved a second reading of the proposed amendment to the city’s code of ordinances related to open burning on April 13. In March, the council voted unanimously to repeal another ordinance that banned open burning in favor of new guidelines that govern allowable open burning for food consumption, fire suppression training, warmth and personal enjoyment.

“This is the International Fire Code language. It was requested by the Fire Department,” Warren City Council Secretary Mindy Moore said. “It is the same language used by surrounding communities, including Sterling Heights.

“Small outdoor fires in approved containers are already happening in the city. People go to Menards, Lowe’s and Home Depot and these items are for sale — in Warren,” Moore said.

Several council members said they’d heard from families who support the ordinance; more so, they said, than those who oppose it.

“Kids love it. They roast marshmallows and make s’mores,” Moore said. “If someone is being obnoxious and burning garbage and not following the rules, there is a remedy. But the fire prevention experts have said this is safe and they recommend it. And if the city is overcome with smog and pollution overnight after the council passes this, then we can always repeal it. But that won’t happen.”

Warren City Council President Pat Green said, “We’ve spoken to hundreds and hundreds of Warren residents who want this ordinance in place. We did so with consultation from our Fire Department and we modeled the ordinance after International Fire Code.

“We support our residents and we support families,” Green said.