New fire rules urged

Opposition to fire pits and tiki torches in residential neighborhoods heated up at the Nov. 16 council meeting.

The council delayed final approval of the 2010 California Building and Fire Codes to allow the public to be informed of more stringent local regulations proposed than originally approved. A ban on fire pits and tiki torches in residential neighborhoods, approved unanimously by the council, will be considered at the Dec. 7 meeting.

"At the last meeting, I proposed a ban on all fire pits and torches in residential neighborhoods, but since then I have talked to some people and researched the number of fires from fire pits and I couldn't find any so I am going to support a 20-to-30 foot space between fire pits and combustible materials," Councilman Kelly Boyd said.

He will continue to oppose tiki torches in residential areas.

The local amendment proposed by the staff in the document presented to the council at the meeting would have allowed torches and fire pits three feet from combustibles.

David Horne, chairman of the Greater Laguna Fire Safe Council, said the 3-foot separation on properties designated for fuel modification was a step backward. He urged the council to adopt a separation of at least 30 feet.

Horne drew a distinction between open flame pits and gas burning barbeques or outdoor fireplaces that generally surround the flames with a metal or stone enclosure and often metal screening.

"Nobody is proposing to ban gas barbeques," he said.

Open pits are mostly decorative, Horne said, and left unused they become repositories for dried-out vegetation that could spew embers when lighted.

The pits endanger not only lives and property, but also the ability to get private fire insurance from wary insurance companies for fuel modification properties, according to Horne.

Most mortgages require fire coverage and folks unable to get private insurance are forced to rely on the state's "FAIR Plan" which provides minimum coverage at a high cost.

"Fire pits close to combustible material could lead to more FAIR Plans," Design Review Board veteran Ilse Lenschow said.

Four insurance companies denied coverage to Diamond Crestview residents Marilyn and Loren Carroll, based, they said, on the fire hazards of their neighborhood. They urged the council to adopt Horne's recommendations.

The recommendations included no new fire pits be permitted in the high risk areas of Arch Beach Heights, Canyon Acres, Diamond Creastview, Wood/Milligan, Olympic Village and brush interface.

The hearing on Dec.7 will be the second reading of the amendments to the city's building and fire codes and if adopted will go into effect 30 days after the meeting.

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