Fire away: Supes revisit commercial open burns

July 2 marked the Board of Supervisors' first chance to revisit Albemarle's commercial open fire policy, nine months after a public outcry about a massive fire pile in the developing Belvedere community off Rio Road.

"This is something we put together in response to complaints board members have received from citizens," says fire marshal James Barber. "My office investigates all of those complaints."

On the Board's agenda were two options: banning commercial open fires altogether, or putting them under stricter regulations. Proposals include demanding that brush fires take place in a pit and that burners employ an "air curtain," or blower.

"It makes the burning process more efficient by making the fire hotter," says Barber.

In addition, the Board is considering expanding the existing 500-feet notification radius, a standard among similar Virginia counties, to force commercial burners to obtain the written permission of all dwellers within 1,000 feet.

By contrast, Henrico County requires permission from neighbors within only 300 feet while Prince William already requires it from all dwellers within 1,000 feet.

For now, the Board has decided to emphasize stricter enforcement under existing regulations for a trial period of 60-90 days. Open burn applicants already pay a $325 administrative fee and attest that all neighbors within 500 feet have given permission. The County now wants evidence of such permissions.

According to Supervisor Kenneth Boyd, the Board will meet after this trial period of stringent enforcement to decide whether a new ordinance is necessary. "There is no need to increase legislation if enforcement will do just as well," says Boyd. If a new ordinance does seem necessary, the Board will hold a public hearing.

Barber says that if supervisors ban open burning altogether, contractors will be forced to use other methods of disposal. He notes that contractors worry that alternatives– include grinding material and trucking it offsite– will drive up their expenses.

For neighbor Robin Hoffman, just getting the board to consider a ban is "a miracle."

"People feel absolutely no responsibility," says Hoffman, blasting Stonehaus Inc., the development company whose fire pit blanketed her Huntington Road home and yard with ash last fall.

Stonehaus did not return the Hook's calls by press time.

"You can't stop progress, but you need to protect the ones around the new development," says another Huntington Road resident, G.L. Kirby, who served 35 years as a volunteer in the Charlottesville fire department. "My concern was the ashes were coming in on cars, and my windows were full of soot.

"They certainly need to put in a deeper fire pit, and before they leave to go off the job, they need to have someone watch it or put it out," says Kirby, noting that smoke can exacerbate health conditions such as asthma and emphysema.

Over at Fairview Pool, which was being pelted with ash last year, swim director J.J. Bean says the problem has subsided.

"With any kind of neighborhood construction site, you're going to have dirt and dust," says Bean, adding that the development offered the use of its water truck to wash away particles. "The people at the worksite were very receptive to helping us out," he adds.

The revisiting of the open burning policy will not affect burning for non-commercial purposes, Barber says. This means that, as long as they comply with any applicable regulations such as neighborhood association rules or fire codes, backyard bonfires can continue to blaze.

According to Boyd, the Board will have another session regarding open burning within 60 to 90 days, and will provide time for public comment. As of now, no draft ordinances exist.

1 comment

Map of location of fire pile would be helpful.