Vt. City Considering ‘COVID Fires' to Encourage Safer Get-Togethers

Currently, Burlington does not allow backyard burning, according to a city councilor who sees fire pits as a way to promote physical distancing during the pandemic

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Elected officials in Vermont's largest city are considering a change to how residents would be allowed to entertain in their own backyards.

A resolution would establish a clear permitting process for fire pits in Burlington, which backers say would be a good way to promote safe physical distancing during the pandemic.

"I'm calling them COVID fires," said Joan Shannon, a Democrat who represents Burlington's south district on the city council.

Shannon, along with Councilors Karen Paul and Chip Mason, is calling for a system allowing backyard burning of clean, dry firewood in approved receptacles—at least for a trial run November through April—believing it would boost folks' mental health if they could socialize more during the pandemic.

"We are social creatures," Shannon said. "We do need to gather. I hope this will be a benefit for some people and allow them to continue to get together with friends, outside, in a safe way."

A resolution up for consideration asks the fire chief to design a permitting process for fire pits.

Applicants would have to meet a series of safety requirements, such as having a source of water nearby, maintaining a watchful eye over the fire, and making sure fire pits are not too close to structures or fences.

There could be debate among city council members around proposed measures to spare neighbors impacts from noise or smoke.

However, Shannon told NECN she believes starting the fire pit season in November would be respectful of residents whose breathing could be irritated by smoke because they would likely have their windows closed during the chillier months.

Shannon acknowledged there are residents who currently use fire pits, but she said they're technically in violation of city rules—even though there are not patrols for fire pit violations.

Burlington resident Val Carzello had pressed councilors for a system that would allow her to have a legal pit in her backyard. She said in an interview Thursday that she would like a place to meet with her book group outdoors, where experts say fresh air means they're safer from the virus than they'd be inside.

"It would be better and safer and less angsty if we could just be outside and not be worrying about COVID the whole time and just talk about a book," Carzello said.

Carzello said she's optimistic Burlington's fire pit trial run will get the green-light.

"People just want to have fun in their own back yard," the homeowner said.

At Stove & Flag Works in Williston, store manager Taz Duranleau said in the time of COVID-19, sales of metal fire pits as well as bricks to make your own have been red-hot, to customers in other communities that allow them.

"Having those fire pits and being able to stand around it and keep your space but still communicate with your friends and family was, I think, a big part of the fire pit sales," Duranleau said.

Councilor Shannon said the matter is on the agenda for Monday's council meeting.

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