TEMPERANCE - Bedford Township officials last week made the most sweeping changes in years to the township's open-burning law.
The ordinance, which regulates what and when residents can burn on their property as well as the use of burn barrels, bonfires, and campfires, was modified last week to outlaw September burning of leaves and brush.
Under changes unanimously approved by the board, open fires to burn leaves and brush must be at least 15 feet from lot lines, road rights of way, and paved surfaces.
Also, the township reduced the legal size of bonfires and outlawed burning leaves and grass clippings in barrels.
Fire Chief John Bofia said the move to restrict fires near roadways was prompted by complaints about smoke and concerns over health and safety risks.
"We had on occasion people who would burn leaves too close to fences and in some cases unattended fires. We have people who burn in ditches and on the roads to the point that smoke obstructed traffic," Chief Bofia said.
The township fire commission brought the ordinance changes to the board in part because of the persistence of township resident Linda Sara, who has asthma and is a longtime opponent of open burning.
"It is time we learn about what we are burning in our trash barrels and leaf fires," she said.
The changes, which took effect immediately, include $50 fine increases for violating the ordinance. Residents could get hit with $75 fines for a first offense in a one-year period.
The new regulations limit brush and leaf piles to three feet in diameter and two feet in height from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Fridays and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays in April, May, October, and November.
The burning of yard waste in open fires is prohibited from June through September and June through March unless otherwise approved by a permit from the fire chief for special or unusual circumstances.
The fires must be at least 25 feet from structures and 15 feet from lot lines, road rights of way, and paved surfaces.
Also, the township lessened the size of bonfires from eight feet in diameter and height to five feet.
Residents can continue to burn newspapers, papers, and cardboards in barrels covered with mesh or screen from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday throughout the year.
They can burn leaves and other yard waste Friday through Sunday in approved barrels in April, May, October, and November.
Trustee Paul Francis said at the meeting that the township needs to offer an alternative to residents to dispose of yard wastes before it can outlaw burning completely.
"I view this as a transitional move because I would like to see at some point in time that we ban burning for health purposes," he said.
Mrs. Sara praised the township board for taking "baby steps" to reduce open burning.
However, she said she plans to continue working toward eliminating the practice because of the dangerous hydrocarbons, pollutants, and particulates released into the air from burning leaves and other items.
"I think small bites are better than big bites in this situation. I think one day we will ban burning in Bedford Township 100 percent," she said.
The last real adjustment to leaf burning occurred in 2001 when the board limited the practice to restricted hours on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays in selected months.
At the time, the board called it a compromise between residents who wanted an outright ban of leaf burning and those who called the practice a "God-given right."
"I think we make adjustments every years. As time goes on we have seen mistakes that were made and we try to fix them," Chief Bofia said.