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Mon., Mar. 30
Serving the communities of Jefferson, St. Lawrence and Lewis counties, New York
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Don’t get burned

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Officials with the village of Massena are at a fork in the road over the issue of recreational fires, and they don’t know which path to take.

During their meeting Tuesday, members of the village Board of Trustees were considering a change in code to allow residents to burn fires outside. They recognize that many people would like setting up fire pits in their backyards to roast marshmallows with their children or just enjoy the fire on an evening outside.

But resident Ruth Elmer asked trustees to hold off approving any such changes. She said that people like her who have respiratory conditions would suffer if exposed to additional outside smoke.

“I am very much opposed to this,” said Ms. Elmer, who has asthma, according to a Tuesday story published in the Daily Courier-Observer. “I don’t usually make waves, but tonight I want a tsunami to put out all of those little fires you want to build.”

“We’re going to be living under a cloud, and we can hardly breathe as it is,” Ms. Elmer said. “I know you’ve already passed a law against smoking in the parks and other outdoor areas, but you might as well rescind that. This isn’t progress; it’s regression. … Breathing is our innate right. We should be able to breathe fresh air. I can’t enjoy the outdoors because there is too much smoke. I have to close up all my windows and doors just like in the winter. If people want to have a campfire, they should go camping.”

Section C of the proposed changes reads: “A recreational fire that is hazardous, offensive, objectionable or unreasonably interferes with the comfortable enjoyment of life or property due to smoke or odor emissions shall be prohibited.”

Section D reads: “The code enforcement officer, fire chief or chief of police or his or her designee is authorized to order the extinguishment of a recreational fire which creates or adds to a hazardous, offensive or objectionable condition.”

Ms. Elmer gave something for village officials to contemplate before making changes. Trustees Timothy J. Ahlfeld and Francis J. Carvel voted to table the matter while Mayor James F. Hidy and Trustee Albert C. Deshaies voted against tabling it. Trustee Patricia K. Wilson did not attend the meeting.

Mayor Hidy said anyone who is bothered by an outside fire can contact the village to lodge an objection. He said the proposed changes address the problem of people burning items other than wood.

Mayor Hidy was correct when he said that the sentiments of other residents are worthy of consideration. But people who have respiratory conditions should be a priority as allowing outdoor fires may make them ill.

For people experiencing trouble breathing due to outdoor fires, to insist they call the village would place an unnecessary burden on them. In other words, they have to suffer first and then lodge a complaint before getting relief.

And imagine how problematic this could be for the code enforcement office, or the police or fire departments. Every time someone experiences problems as a result of an outdoor fire, the village has to send someone to shut the fire down.

Village personnel certainly have better things to do than scouting for backyard fires to extinguish. The proposed changes are shortsighted and should not be implemented.

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