City fire pit permit deadline approaching

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

McCOOK, Neb. — McCook residents have just a few more weeks to install a permanent backyard fire pit without going through a permitting process. City leaders granted second reading approval to a new ordinance last night intended to provide standardized guidelines related to the setup and use of backyard fire pits.

The proposed ordinance will likely return for final reading approval during the May 1 City Council meeting.

Residents intending to install a permanent in- or on-ground fire pit will be required under the new rules to submit a site plan to the city building inspector, which will serve as the permit, and perform a utility location survey. Permits will not be required for portable fire pits provided they are commercially designed and tested.

Opposition to the ordinance has been nonexistent through the first two readings and one City Council member indicated he had heard from supporters of the measure.

City Councilman Bruce McDowell said Monday evening a woman approached him recently saying “we really needed that,” adding her neighbors operated a fire pit too close to her house.

“She was very much in favor,” said Councilman McDowell during the regularly scheduled meeting.

The fire pit ordinance will implement a 10-foot minimum clearance while excluding permanent fire pits constructed prior to the adoption of the ordinance.

Councilwoman Janet Hepp asked if local retailers were going to have problems meeting specifications and size requirements in the ordinance and whether restrictions conflicted with existing inventory.

Fire Chief Marc Harpham said residents would be hard pressed to find commercial grade fire pits sold locally larger than the allowed four feet, but indicated he would double check.

Fuel areas for a fire pit are capped at four feet in diameter and a height of no more than three feet high. Outdoor fireplaces will be prohibited on combustible balconies or decks, among other requirements.

The new rules outline construction guidelines, such as setback requirements and size restrictions, as well as supervision, permitting and other requirements for “Outdoor Fireplaces.” According to the ordinance, the term “Outdoor fireplaces” shall include fire pits and portable fire pits. Portable fire pits are defined as being commercially designed and intended to confine and control outdoor wood fires.

“Outdoor fireplaces do not include barbecue grills that use propane, charcoal or any other fuel used primarily for outdoor cooking. Outdoor fireplaces also do not include Chimineas,” according to the ordinance.

The material being burnt will be limited to untreated wood or fireplace starter logs. Grass, leaves, cardboard, rubbish, plastics and a variety of other items are prohibited.

The second reading of the ordinance included an amendment to “Item K” striking language referring to nuisance fires. The section authorizes fire personnel to extinguish nuisance or hazardous fire pits and Chief Harpham indicated a nuisance was a hazard, which made the language unnecessarily redundant.

The entire proposed ordinance is available online at:

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