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Air Quality Newsletter Air Quality Newsletter
COVID-19 and Outdoor Burning
The SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 poses a particular threat to individuals with a history of heart or respiratory illness. Smoke and odor from outdoor burning could exacerbate impacts to already vulnerable populations. Therefore, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is urging Coloradans not to engage in open burning activities during the COVID-19 response. Please consider not having a fire during this time and supporting healthy air quality for those already compromised by COVID-19 or with existing respiratory illnesses within the community.
Outdoor Residential Burning
Backyard fire pits can seem like a great place to gather friends and neighbors, share stories, roast marshmallows. However, smoke and odor generated from wood burning can have unintended negative impacts on those around us and affect some of our most sensitive populations such as the young, the elderly and people with heart or lung conditions.
In March 2019, the City of Fort Collins Council adopted new nuisance code language to address health and nuisance impacts of wood smoke.
New Air Pollution Nuisance Code Requirements Effective March 29, 2019
- Outdoor wood burning fires must be at least 15 feet from adjacent property lines
- Wood burning fires must be extinguished by 10:00 pm
If you want to have a fire...
Here are some tips to reduce the likelihood of unintended negative impacts on others:
- Talk to your neighbors prior to having a fire. If your neighbors have concerns, brainstorm options to address their concerns (e.g., if, when or where you have your fire). See the conflict resolution tips in the FAQs below for suggestions.
- Place your fire pit/basin/apparatus at least 15 feet from any combustible surface or structure and at least 15 feet from any property line.
- Burn only clean, dry, seasoned wood (leaves, branches, grass clippings, yard waste are not allowed).
- The total fuel size (wood pile) must be 3 feet or less in diameter, and 2 feet or less in height.
- Have sufficient airflow to allow for efficient burning.
- Never leave your fire unattended and be able to react appropriately should an issue arise.
- Fully extinguish the fire with water by 10:00 pm.
If someone's fire is negatively impacting you...
People can have portable wood burning fireplaces or portable fire pits in their yard, but they need to follow fire safety and smoke nuisance rules. Here are some tips:
For Nuisance Related Issues (e.g., excessive smoke or odor, time of day of the burn, distance to property line)
- Know what's allowed and what's not, which can help when talking to your neighbor or submitting a complaint. See the conflict resolution tips in the FAQs below for suggestions.
- If you feel comfortable doing so, talk to your neighbor about your concerns.
- If resolving the issue with your neighbor is unsuccessful, make a formal complaint online through Access Fort Collins or call the Nuisance Hotline at (970) 416-2200. An actionable complaint should include as many details as possible but at a minimum include the following, if known:
- The address of the source of smoke
- The time that you noticed the smoke
- Note if the smoke is from an outdoor fire pit or indoor fireplace
For Non-Emergency Health and Safety Related Issues (e.g., distance to combustible surface, type of materials being burned, size of fuel source)
- If you have a non-emergency health or safety concern about an active fire, call the non-emergency dispatch line at (970) 221-6540.
- For emergencies, call 9-1-1.
- Did the City ban fire pits?
In 2017, City Council identified air quality impacts from outdoor burning as a priority issue to investigate in 2018, with new rules adopted in 2019. While many people enjoy outdoor wood fires, others, especially those with respiratory conditions such as asthma, can be negatively affected by the particle emissions in wood smoke which can cross property lines. Many communities in Colorado and elsewhere have different degrees of rules and regulations that limit wood smoke in residential neighborhoods.
- Can I have a BBQ grill or smoker?
The property line setback and curfew do not apply to BBQs and smokers, but air pollution nuisance rules do prohibit smoke that could be perceived as a public nuisance.
- What about cigarette and marijuana smoke?
Secondhand smoke in neighborhoods is not addressed by the current nuisance rules, but your HOA, property manager, or the City’s free Community Mediation Program may be able to help.
- Are there health effects from inhaling wood smoke?
The smoke from wood burning is made up of a complex mixture of gases and fine particles. The biggest health threat from smoke is from the fine particles, also called fine particulate matter or PM2.5. These microscopic particles can get into your eyes and respiratory system, where they may cause eye irritation, runny nose and headaches. Breathing these small particles can also cause asthma attacks, aggravate heart and lung disease, and may increase the likelihood of respiratory illnesses. Learn more about health risks related to wood smoke through the Environmental Protection Agency Burn Wise program.
- Are there less smoky alternatives to burning wood?
Natural gas or propane burning fire pits and appliances, when operated properly, should not emit significant amounts of smoke or odor.
- What happens if I submit a complaint about my neighbor?
If sufficient information is provided for an actionable complaint, City staff will send an educational warning letter to the address of the source of the smoke that summarizes the requirements for outdoor residential burning within City limits, as well as the enforcement actions should additional complaints be received. If additional complaints are received for the same property for the same fire pit issue, and they are substantiated through investigation, observation, or other forms of documentation, City staff may escalate to a formal Notice of Violation. Failure to correct the violations may result in a citation and/or fines.
Helpful information for an actionable complaint includes the following, if known:
- The address of the source of smoke/odor
- The time of day that the smoke/odor was noticed
- If the smoke is from an outdoor fire pit or indoor fireplace
- Type of fuel being burned (e.g. wood, trash, yard waste, etc.)
In some cases when an address is unknown, an educational warning letter may be sent to multiple properties within a given radius of the complainant's property. These types of letters are sent at the discretion of the City staff involved and are based on the nature of the complaint and the information provided.
- I don't want to submit a formal complaint, are there other options?
Good neighbors create strong communities and knowing how to resolve conflicts amicably is essential for building strong neighbor relationships. You have a few options: 1) you can respectfully talk to your neighbor on your own to discuss your concerns, 2) download and mail an educational letter, or 3) you may contact the City's Mediation Program to help you have the conversation.
If you'd like to resolve a conflict on your own and feel comfortable approaching your neighbor, here are some tips for constructive conflict resolution:
- Be proactive. Try to meet with your neighbor before or after a given issue arises and avoid "heat of the moment" reactions that you may regret later.
- Empathize. Be willing to listen and understand the other person's perspective, even if you disagree with it.
- Stay positive. Our behavior affects how others perceive and react to us. Keep a positive attitude regardless of past feelings and experiences.
- Be open. Keep an open mind for discussing and considering a variety of solutions.
- Be humble. Apologize and/or forgive. Practice self-awareness to know when you need to do either or both.
- Know when to let something go. If a conversation is going badly, back off and try to reschedule. Abusive behavior is unacceptable and know when to agree to disagree.
If you'd like to send a letter, please feel free to use this template to get started.
For information about the City's free and confidential mediation program and additional conflict resolution guidance, contact Patsi Maroney at bWVkaWF0aW9uQGZjZ292LmNvbQ== or call (970) 224-6022.
- What are the requirements for gas fire pit installations in the City?
Installation of a gas fire pit requires a building permit. Questions related to the building code requirements for gas fire pit installations may be directed to the City's Building and Planning Review Department at 970-416-2757.