Petition to allow backyard bonfires in GR ignites debate

Posted at 5:20 PM, Jul 30, 2015

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- It's a fairly common sight, and smell, across West Michigan during the summer: backyard bonfires.

But in Grand Rapids, the summer staple is prohibited under city ordinance, which is why a petition to rewrite the ban is igniting growing support online.

In roughly two weeks, Daniel Geurink's petition posted to has collected more than 1,000 signatures.

Geurink lives on the city's south east side and said there should be exceptions for small fires or chimneys in backyards, as long as they're within a certain size and kept attended.

After seeing a Facebook post from the city's police department reminding residents open burns are illegal, Geurink said he wanted to try and do something, instead of simply posting complaints about it on social media.

"I understand fire can be dangerous and there has to be precautions and you can’t just be burning trash and other things, so that has to be certain rules that have to be followed but I think making it outright illegal that’s just not the right answer," he said.

Nearby cities like Kentwood, Walker and Wyoming have similar exceptions for small fires in portable pits. Larger cities like Kalamazoo also allow open fires, with limits on size and how far they must be kept from buildings.

Re-writing the ban in Grand Rapids was proposed just a few years ago, according to First Ward Commissioner Walt Gutowski. But those plans were ultimately shot down by Mayor George Heartwell who expressed concerns over air quality in the city, Gutowski said.

"I believe, and all commissioners believe safety first," he said, adding he's open to discussing changes, "That's why I say I can see it some areas, on the outskirts where there's larger lots and such, but I'm going to rely on the (fire) chief to give her perspective."

Regardless of whether the petition collects its goal of 1,500 signatures, any final decision to amend the ordinance will be up to commissioners.