The Lewiston couple who precipitated a countywide controversy over open burning four years ago returned to the county Board of Health last week to complain the law isn't being enforced.
Phyllis and Donald Fending, who have lived on Kline Road in the Colonial Village neighborhood for 42 years, said their neighbors spent the summer holding frequent backyard bonfires and burning rubbish. The smoke is a health hazard to Mrs. Fending, 62, who said she has severe asthma and was diagnosed with leukemia several years ago.
"It's been over four years. My wife has lost 25 percent of her lungs," Fending said. "Our whole summer, for four years, she can't go into her backyard. She can't go from the house to the car without covering her mouth."
"It's way out of hand," said Public Health Director Paulette M. Kline, who fined one of the Fendings' neighbors $200 for illegal burning. "They would burn to be spiteful."
"I've had as many as 15 bonfires going on one night," Fending said.
Kline said enforcement of the open burning section of the county sanitary code, which was revised by the Board of Health in 2001 in response to the Fendings' case, is sometimes difficult.
The county used to ban all open burning, but in April 2001 the Board of Health legalized small fires. Campfires of four logs or fewer are allowed, along with grill fires and burning of agricultural waste by farmers. There is a size limit on the logs: 18 inches long and 6 inches in diameter.
"I have been to your home twice. Other people from the Health Department have been there. Many times, by the time we get there, the fire is less than it was," Kline told the Fendings.
Fending said the strength of police enforcement of the code seems to depend on the attitude of the officer who takes the call.
"There's a few who are good," he said.
Assistant County Attorney J. Michael Fitzgerald told the Fendings they should hire a lawyer and have him pursue action against the neighbors, because the county has done all it can do.
Fending said he had to take his wife to the emergency room after one recent incident and was hit with a $688 bill.