Saturday, June 15, 2024

Cooler weather means bonfires, but don’t strike that match in Wilmington

Outdoor fire pits like this are prohibited within Wilmington City limits, but permitted in unincorporated New Hanover County (Port City Daily photo/FILE)
Outdoor fire pits like this are prohibited within Wilmington City limits, but permitted in unincorporated New Hanover County (Port City Daily photo / FILE)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — Summer is finally over in the Cape Fear as cooler weather makes its way into the region. The idea of sitting around a bonfire with some hot chocolate becomes more appealing but, depending on the location, a simple campfire or a burning pile of leaves could end up being illegal.

As the leaves start to fall, having a burn pile can seem like good way to get rid of the yard debris but, for those within the City of Wilmington limits, any sort of outdoor fire is illegal, unless it is in an approved cooking device.

According to the City of Wilmington’s Open Burn Ordinance, “Recreational fire pits, utilizing solid fuel, are prohibited within the city limits of Wilmington. Fire pits that are modified with grates to give the impression of cooking, (do) not meet the NC Fire Prevention Code, as they can and are utilized for recreational fires. Fire pits utilizing natural or propane fuel are allowed.”

In unincorporated New Hanover, permits are required

In New Hanover County, open burning is permitted, but there are several guidelines residents must follow, from state level all the way to local ordinances, New Hanover County Fire Department Deputy Chief Frank Meyer said.

In the City of Wilmington, the only acceptable fire is one used for cooking, in an approved cooking appliance (Port City Daily photo/FILE)
In the City of Wilmington, the only acceptable fire is one used for cooking, in an approved cooking appliance (Port City Daily photo / FILE)

“You can have outside fires in the unincorporated areas of New Hanover County as long there are certain requirements followed. It is completely permissible to burn yard debris that is generated on your property, but to do so, you obtain a permit from the NC Forestry Service,” Meyer said.

While the smoke from fires can be bothersome to neighbors at times, as long as the person burning the debris is following the law, the Fire Department cannot require anyone to extinguish their fire, he said.

“We encounter a number of calls, especially in spring and fall, people call 911 because they are displeased that their neighbors are burning leaves and the smoke bothers them or ash is falling in their yard. Instead of talking to their neighbor, it’s easier to call 911 and have a fire truck come out. A lot of times they get very upset when we come out, we meet with the person who is doing the burning, and we leave and the fire is still going,” Meyer said.

Obtaining a permit for open burning can sound like a tedious process, but the permit can be obtained online in a matter of minutes, and is valid up to 30 days. For those who prefer the old-fashioned way of doing things, a paper permit can be obtained at several locations around the county, but the paper permits are valid for a shorter time.

“The reason everyone likes the online permit is because it’s good for 30 days, and you don’t have to go anywhere. You sit at your computer, you enter the data, and almost as soon as you hit submit, they return a permit to you in an email,” Meyer said.

The important thing to remember when open burning is that any yard debris burned must originate on the property and other materials not found naturally on the property cannot be burned.

Since the City of Wilmington offers free yard debris pickup, burning is not allowed.

What about recreational fires?

Fires are not just useful for getting rid of yard debris but also serve as a form of entertainment, but again, for residents inside of city limits, the only type of recreational fire allowed is one fueled by natural gas or propane. This means that any prefabricated fire pit or chimenea, like those found at hardware stores, are prohibited in city limits.

In the unincorporated county recreational fires are permitted as long as the fire meets certain requirements.

“It has to be greater than 50-feet away from any structure, with a few exceptions. Fires in approved containers, can be within 15-feet (from a structure) … the other requirement is if it is not in a container, it must be at least 25-feet away from a structure as long as the pile is no more than three feet in diameter and two feet tall,” Meyer said.

When it comes to any kind of burning, fires must be attended at all times in the county. This means someone has to physically be in close proximity to the fire as well as have the means to extinguish it, he said.

While the Fire Department has the ability to asses civil penalties for violations, Meyer said he focuses more on education, but if a ticket is warranted for violations the department will issue it.


Fire ordinance by Michael James on Scribd

Michael Praats can be reached at Michael.p@localvoicemedia.com

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