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Neighborhood Services E-newsletter


Wood Smoke Complaints


Wood smoke can be very impactful. If you burn, outdoors or indoors, please be mindful of your neighbors and monitor your wood smoke emissions. Smoke can be reduced by burning a hot fire, not letting a fire smolder, or by extinguishing the fire.

Neighborhood Services receives wood smoke complaints year round. In the summer months, the complaints are typically from outdoor burning whether in a fire pan, dug in pit, or chiminea. In the colder months, the smoke tends to come from indoor fireplaces and stoves.

What Happens With a Complaint?

When a complaint is received, Neighborhood Services can send a letter either to the house creating the smoke or to a larger neighborhood area if the exact location is unknown. The letter is strictly educational and outlines the following rules and guidelines for burning. If a call is received during business hours, a Code Compliance Inspector can go to the address (if known) and look at the situation to determine if a citation can be issued.

Complaints can be made by calling the Nuisance Hotline (970-416-2200) while the burning is taking place, or you may fill out a complaint online using Access Fort Collins.

What Do I Need to Know Outdoor Burning?

  • Any burning of construction material, yard waste, agricultural material, or trash is illegal.
  • Accepted fuels are limited to charcoal and clean, dry, untreated wood.
  • Backyard recreational burning and “campfires” cannot be greater than three feet in diameter or two feet in height.
  • Portable outdoor fireplaces must be operated not less than 15 feet from any combustible construction or overhangs.
  • The fire must be constantly attended by an adult who can intervene in case of emergency.
  • A garden hose connected to a patent water supply, or a fire extinguisher with a minimum rating of 4-A, shall be immediately available to the user of the appliance.
  • If in the opinion of fire department personnel, the fire or its byproducts are causing a hazardous condition, they are authorized to order the extinguishment of such a fire.
  • The Poudre Fire Authority (PFA) will respond if a homeowner is experiencing significant smoke at their home or if they have a safety concern about a fire or the use of an outdoor wood burning appliance.
  • The PFA non-emergency number is 970-416-2600.

What Do I Need to Know About Indoor Burning?

  • Burn only clean, dry wood in a small hot fire. It is illegal to burn trash, which includes cardboard, plastic, newspaper, office paper, and treated wood.
  • After the first 15 minutes of startup, City Code requires the smoke from your chimney not exceed “20% opacity” (smoke should be only slightly visible when looking at it with your back to the sun).
  • The installation of a fireplace or wood burning stove or insert requires the owner to obtain a building permit through Building Services.
  • Neighborhood Services may also check if a building permit was pulled for any stove installation and may have a code inspector drive by to check for the 20% opacity.
  • If you have a stove, it is possible that it pre-dates the EPA-certified approved stoves available today. If so, it is even more critical to monitor your burning practices.
  • Consider replacing or removing your wood burning unit.

HEALTH EFFECTS

Wood smoke contains poisonous and cancer-causing chemicals including carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons and formaldehyde. They enter the lungs by attaching to tiny particles in wood smoke too small to be filtered by the nose and upper respiratory systems. Breathing wood smoke can:

  • Cause cardiovascular problems such as angina
  • Irritate lungs and eyes
  • Trigger headaches
  • Hinder judgement
  • Slow reflexes
  • Worsen respiratory diseases such as asthma, emphysema and bronchitis

It is especially detrimental to children, pregnant woman, and the elderly. The occurrence of respiratory illnesses such as acute pneumonia or bronchitis in children has been shown to increase with increased exposure to wood smoke.

Environmental effects

Fort Collins is not immune to the pollution of big city life. One out of every four days, the City violates the state of Colorado's visibility standard, causing a dark haze or "brown cloud". While wood smoke contributes to the brown cloud, it can be more damaging in the specific neighborhood where wood burning occurs.

Air quality/loans

The City of Fort Collins offers an Air Quality Loan Program to help you replace wood burning units. You may be eligible to borrow up to $3,000. For more information on wood burning and air quality please see fcgov.com/airquality/WoodBurning