Campfires in Niagara County would be limited to "four logs of dry wood" under new open burning regulations proposed Thursday to the county Board of Health.
The board is expected to vote on the regulations, more detailed and in many cases more lenient than the current ones, at its March 22 meeting.
The board received the proposal after several weeks of work by its legislative committee and Assistant County Attorney J. Michael Fitzgerald.
John Gotowko of North Tonawanda, a board member, said the text of the regulations was largely borrowed from similar provisions already in force in Monroe County.
The Niagara County Sanitary Code, over which the Board of Health has exclusive control, now prohibits most open burning. The new version contains a short list of prohibited fires, which are limited to garbage or other types of solid waste.
The amendment adds language that allows some other types of fires "when a nuisance is not created."
It specifically allows barbecuing of food, as well as "campfires and fires used solely for recreational purposes." Campfires, however, are to be no larger than "four logs of dry wood."
"If they start throwing in the branches from a tree, and it's green, and it smokes, it won't be too hard to prove it's a nuisance," Fitzgerald said.
"To me, (the regulation) misses the whole point," said Dr. Louis B. Kramer, a board member. He reminded his colleagues that the issue arose in September when a resident of Colonial Village in Lewiston complained that her neighbor's fires were aggravating her asthma.
"I don't care if someone has a fire as long as it doesn't bother anyone," Kramer said. "The crux of the problem is whether it causes illness. I don't care if it's one log or 20."
Fitzgerald said a size limitation and the dry wood rule will reduce nuisances by making fires less likely to generate large amounts of smoke.
"A couple of the (complaints) we investigated didn't deal with the fires we're going to allow," Fitzgerald said. "They were bonfires 10 or 20 feet high."
Farmers will be allowed controlled burnings of "tree trimmings, insect-infested or diseased vegetation, material cultivated from created wetlands, animal or vegetable wastes, or land-clearing materials" as long as they don't create a nuisance.
Gotowko said he envisions enforcement "only when someone complains. You can't police everything."
Kramer said a property owner should be responsible for keeping smoke off his neighbors' property.
There should be some restriction if smoke or fumes causes a health hazard," Dr. Kramer insisted.
In other action Thursday, the board unanimously rejected a request from St. Peter's Catholic School in Lewiston to waive its $150 food service inspection fee.