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Minneapolis to consider limits on recreational fires

Recreational fires may be disappearing from Minneapolis yards on air alert days.

Recreational fires could be banned in Minneapolis on air alert days, designated by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency when the air quality is deemed unhealthy for sensitive groups.

Council Member Cam Gordon
Council Member Cam Gordon

“I think a good case can be made that burning wood contributes to air pollution and air quality,” said Council Member Cam Gordon, who is asking his colleagues to have a “bit of conversation” about recreational fires and air quality.

“I hear concerns from people about how recreational fires make it harder for them to breathe,” said Gordon.

Two of the City Council’s advisory committees, Public Health and Environment, have also voiced concerns about the negative impact of recreational fires on air alert days.

Recreation fires are currently banned in Minneapolis when a statewide or area ban on burning is declared by the Department of Natural Resources because of dry conditions.

The rules for recreational fires in Minneapolis require that they not be within 25 feet of a structure or other combustible material and that they be surrounded by a 6-inch non-combustible barrier. They also specify that someone must monitor the fires as long as they burn. The fires must be extinguished by 10 p.m. Only untreated and unpainted wood may be used for fuel.

According to the website for Take Back the Air, a Minneapolis-based organization working to ban wood smoke, lawn chemicals and scented products, “there is no safe level of wood smoke.”

“Wood smoke can trigger asthma attacks, heart attacks and premature death,” according to the web page, which says wood smoke is a major source of black carbon soot.

Fires for cooking or religious ceremonies would not be affected by the ban on air alert days.

“Back when I was a kid, we were allowed — and actually had — to burn garbage at our homes,” said Gordon. “In the fall, everyone would burn leaves in the street. That was a way to get rid of waste.”

Gordon has introduced the restriction on recreational fires and expects that it will be heard sometime in February in the Public Safety, Civil Rights and Health Committee.

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Comments (6)

  1. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 01/03/2013 - 11:11 am.

    We need this! Thanks to CM Gordon for taking the issue up. Those Minneapolitans who are aware of the horrendous damage to our lungs done by wood-fire small particulate pollution can only hope that his Council colleagues can see their way to the mild limitation he proposes.

  2. Submitted by Alan Muller on 01/03/2013 - 11:42 am.

    Good idea

    This is a good idea–a no-brainer, really. Burning wood produces health-damaging pollution, even when smoke isn’t visible.

    I know Cam has been working on this for some time. Let’s hope it gets enacted promptly.

    But if this applies only to outdoor fires, it’s only a first step. Fireplaces and wood stoves cause high levels of indoor air pollution. However traditional and culturally acceptable it may be, we need to move away from wood burning entirely.

  3. Submitted by Sean Ryan on 01/03/2013 - 12:10 pm.

    How long until I can’t use my fieplace anymore? I don’t want to order another cord of wood if we are heading down the slippery slope of increased regulation.

  4. Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 01/03/2013 - 08:31 pm.

    Can we light candles in church?

    The article doesn’t say how big of a problem this really is, do we have a measurement such as the average campfire pollutes as bad as 3 gallons of gasoline or 10, 40 watt light bulbs over 10 hours? What’s next, no campfires at the lake? Seems one little forest fire in the boundary waters, would cover about 200 years of back yard campfires in the city. We had 2 maybe 3 in 2012 total burn time 6 hours. < 1/10 of 1%, and we were the big campfire people in the neighborhood. How about charcoal and gas grills, lawn mowers, snow blowers, gas powered weed whackers, are they also on the list just a little farther down? So the population of Mpls is ~387,000 the metro ~2.9M, how many folks actually are troubled by this? 10s or 10's of 100's of 1,000s? I don't like tobacco smoke, "I stay away", I don't like traffic smoke, smog, "I try to stay away" The real question: Is this a big encompassing solution looking for a miniscule problem to crush? No problem on the air alert days: You got to be a little goofy to be having a backyard fire in 95 Deg weather and 60% humidity anyway.

  5. Submitted by Brian Reichow on 01/03/2013 - 09:40 pm.

    This is pointless

    I took the time to dig through the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s well-documented Air Quality Index (AQI) summaries for the years 2003-2011. It’s all online and easy to find.

    In those nine years, the vast majority of days with an AQI high enough to warrant concern (“unhealthy for sensitive groups” or higher) took place during the WINTER (December-March), not the spring, summer or fall.

    In fact, only two years had more than 4 such days during the entire April-November period. Five had zero, one, or two.

    Why on earth does the city need to spend a bunch of time discussing something with minimal real-world implications?

  6. Submitted by Bobby Thompson on 01/04/2013 - 12:37 pm.


    This is one ordinance I would ignore, and I’d vote against my council member if she supported it. Environmentalists need to prioritize. What’s a bigger deal as far as emissions: the 1 or 2 fires, at most, that take place on your block each week, or the 50,000 cars that come down I-35, or the 400 airplanes that fly over our neighborhoods each day?

    You don’t get what you want by dictating your own personal preferences to people, which is all this is really about. Besides, to the extent it is a “problem” at all, it is going away by itself, as people are moving to gas fireplaces.

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