Caution urged with fire pit use

Chad Frey
The Kansan
Fire pits and chimineas used in Newton need a screen over the fire.

In the midst of a high-danger grassland fire index, the Newton Fire Department has been busy — three small fires in two days. 

They started with squelching an accidental tire fire, then dealt with a lawn refuse fire before dealing with a grass fire. 

One of those fires jumped out of a burn pit — and the department was able to prevent that fire from damaging a home. 

"There was no structural damage and no one was hurt. We got that one quick," said Steve Roberson, chief of the Newton Fire Department.

Those small fires, however, have Roberson urging caution. As grasses and vegetation are dry following winter — and a deep freeze in February that killed off more vegetation — there is plenty of fuel to burn if a fire gets out of control. 

"It is dry. We got a little bit of snow, but it was a dry snow. Every bit of moisture helps," Roberson said. "You get a little breeze blowing and it does not take much time for things to dry out."

The city maintains a set of ordinances in relation to fire use — in addition to the restrictions by the county in place mostly for agricultural landowners. 

Within the city limits, the burning of trash and yard waste (fall leaves for example) is not permitted. The city ordinance covers burn pits and chimineas. 

"There are parameters folks need to abide by. In the city there is no open burning. You can do barbecue grills, but you cannot burn yard debris, trash or any of those things," Roberson said.

Fire pits and chimineas need a cover, and there are minimum distances from burnable materials and homes to be observed. They must be at least 10 feet away from "combustable materials" and 500 feet away from shake shingle structures. Chimineas should be on a noncombustible surface, and must have a screen with openings no larger than a half inch. 

If the wind speed gusts above 15 miles per hour, then burn pits and chimineas should not be used.