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Norwalk council considers regulating fire pits, outdoor wood burners

Annie Zelm • Aug 25, 2010 at 10:07 AM

Outdoor furnaces are already rare in most cities, but they could soon become a thing of the past in Norwalk.

City council debated legislation on Tuesday that regulates the furnaces in varying degrees — from banning them altogether to allowing them under certain conditions.

An outdoor furnace is any device requiring solid fuel — including fire pits and outdoor wood burners — that supplies heat to a house.

The smoke and other emissions from those structures can pose a health hazard because of the smoke and other emissions, officials said.

Norwalk safety services director Linda Hebert said the city received complaints related to four exterior furnaces in the past two years, and at least one or two still exist today.

The city imposed a moratorium on the furnaces in 2008, which is set to expire this year. Although the EPA issued guidelines on exterior furnaces, it does not provide any uniform regulations to municipalities, Hebert said.

The regulations are only likely to affect a few residents, and some council members said the city should ban the furnaces altogether so there's no confusion.

Council member Shane Penrose recommended council look closely at an ordinance that bans their installation but would not apply to furnaces already in place. Violators could be subject to a fine of up to $500 or 60 days in jail, according to that ordinance.

"It is a different smoke, and it can do a lot of damage," Penrose said. "I think we need to send a clear message: They are not designed for use in the city."

Other council members, including Dwight Tkach and Scott Krichbaum, said they didn't like the idea of banning outdoor furnaces entirely.

The regulations proposed in the other ordinances — requiring them to be no closer than 75 feet from property lines and at least 300 feet from another house, for instance — would prohibit most residents from having them anyway, they pointed out.

Other council members questioned how any of the ordinances could be enforced.

Norwalk law director Stuart O'Hara said the problem could be dealt with as a nuisance complaint from neighbors if the outdoor furnaces emit a noxious odor or cause visibility problems.

But unless neighbors could prove someone is burning an illegal item, such as rubber, he said officials would need a search warrant to enter the property.

Fire officials said the furnaces aren't a fire hazard if they're used properly — most of the calls the fire department receives involve neighbors burning waste.

Council plans to consider all three ordinances at its next meeting, scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Sept. 7.

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