Mebane approves new restrictions on fire pits, burning citywide

At last Monday night’s Mebane City Council meeting, the elected board made a series of changes to its policies regarding the usage of fire pits and other recreational fires throughout the city limits as part of a fire ordinance amendment. Under the newly-passed ordinance, recreational fires are permitted within the city limits, subject to various restrictions. 

At last Monday night’s Mebane City Council meeting, the elected board made a series of changes to its policies regarding the usage of fire pits and other recreational fires throughout the city limits as part of a fire ordinance amendment, while also approving a required series of North Carolina state fire and building codes. 

Earlier this fall, the City Council requested a new ordinance amendment regarding recreational fires, while also increasing the series of fines for those who commit one or multiple infractions of the municipal fire codes. 

The aim of the new policies are to discourage Mebane residents from openly burning trash within the city limits, which has been the source property fires over the years, along with numerous complaints from local residents to the Mebane Fire Department over the smoke these types of open fires produce. 

Under the newly-passed ordinance, recreational fires are permitted within the city limits, subject to the following restrictions. The location of the fire pit and/or recreational fire shall be a safe distance from all structures. The fire must be constantly attended to until it has been extinguished. 

In addition, a method for extinguishment, such as a fire extinguisher, water hose, or additional water supply, shall be available for immediate use. The fuel size for the pit cannot exceed 2 feet by 3 feet, and the diameter of such pits cannot exceed 40 inches in width or length. If the Mebane Fire Department requires extinguishment of the fire, extinguishment must be immediately achieved.

Recreational fires can be used for pleasure, religious, ceremonial, cooking, warmth, or similar purposes, but are prohibited from being used to burn household trash, garbage, yard debris (leaves, brush, stumps, etc.) or construction materials. These guidelines do not apply to fires in which fuel being burned is completely contained in an outdoor fireplace, barbecue grill, or barbecue pit. 

The provision regarding the 40-inch maximum for fire pits was determined following conversations city leaders had with Mebane Fire Department Chief Bob Louis and members of his staff. 

“The issue was brought to our attention by Chief Louis and Tim Bradley about the size of fire pits. So we inserted a 40-inch diameter limitation,” City Attorney Lawson Brown explained. 

The language in the ordinance initially specified that all fire pits or recreational fires should be “at least 25 feet” from dwellings, but the City Attorney indicated that the language was changed to “a safe distance,” which provides some discretion on the part of Chief Louis and his staff in the case of an onsite evaluation. 

“A safe distance is going to be directly proportional to the size of the fire anyway,” City Council member and longtime fireman and fire official Tim Bradley said. “So 25 feet may not be enough. People will have to use common sense.”