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Back Yard Smoke

Original post made by Richard, College Terrace, on Jun 3, 2006

I'm wondering if anyone else is bothered by the seemingly recent trend of back yard fire pits?

When my neighbors start a fire in thier back yard pit as they've done today, my house immediatly fills with smoke. You would think that with the warm summer day's upon us that a back yard fire would be unecessary if not counter productive. When we smell smoke we have to scramble and close all the windows and doors, on a day like today this seems ludicrouse.

With the current EPA attitued toward fireplaces in individuale homes how is it that you can't go into your locale hardware store or Home Depot without seeing these fire place pits on display for the summer sales.

Does anyone else have problems with this?

Are there any local ordinances related to this topic?


Comments (24)

1 person likes this
Posted by Lori
a resident of Los Altos
on Jun 5, 2006 at 12:29 am

We do the same mad dash and it's year round. Fireplaces when there's a chill, pits on occasion the rest of the year.

Our house would fill up with smoke even with the windows closed, so we've worked on sealing the crevices. But we still have one small mystery one we can't find.

It's so upsetting to have to leave home until the smoke clears if I'm too slow to the window or not being able to go outside to work or relax because the air is thick with smoke.

I wish there were an ordinance about fire pits.

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Posted by Al
a resident of another community
on Jun 6, 2006 at 9:57 pm

[Comment removed by Palo Alto Online staff]

1 person likes this
Posted by trudy
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 9, 2006 at 8:49 am

Yes, this is really annoying. Also, someone down the street from my house on Forest Ave. uses a fireplace in the winter, and literally the whole block smells like smoke. This is not only a health hazard, lucky I don't have asthma, but a pollution problem.

I thought I read a few years ago that fireplaces were restricted in new houses because of pollution. I know burning leaves outdoors is a no-no. How do firepits escape regulation?

This is not 50 years ago, when people were more spread out, and we didn't have to worry about global warming.

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Posted by Al
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 9, 2006 at 11:18 pm

[Comment removed by Palo Alto Online staff]

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Posted by Al
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 10, 2006 at 8:25 am

Stop your complaning. Now you want firepits ban! Everything is leaving or ban from Palo ALto ie: Gas blowers, hotels, food stores, big box retail. When does it stop? Every city around us is taking more of our sales taxes.

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Posted by Tyler Hanley
digital editor of Palo Alto Online
on Jun 10, 2006 at 3:42 pm

Tyler Hanley is a registered user.

Thanks for your comments, but in the future please don't characterize the postings of others as "complaining." For this forum to be successful, people who disagree need to focus on the issue being discussed and treat each other with respect.


1 person likes this
Posted by dan
a resident of another community
on Aug 21, 2006 at 5:52 am

i agree, the fire pits have become a menace. In the cooler months, it is almost impossible to open the windows. No matter which way the wind blows, someone is burning their recreational fire. I have come to believe that the only recreational value in this device is for the one burning the wood. everyone else suffers... so much for consideration of the neighbors. whats that i hear? " but its legal." " i have a right to burn this wood in my back yard." maybe so, but driving a car is legal too, do you have the right to drive over people with your car? i find it stunning that so many adults act so childish and inconsiderate.
i challenge the wood burners to answer these questions:
1) when your fire pit is burning, do you leave the windows of your home open?
2) when there is a wind, which side of the pit do you sit on?
now, i could be wrong but my guess is that you do not leave the windows of YOUR home open as your pit is smoking and burning. i would also bet that you sit in a position where you are not in the direct path of the smoke/fumes and other byproducts of YOUR fire.
herein lies the problem... try to follow this logic:
your neighbor, who is getting smoked out by YOUR recreational fire cannot move his house out of the path of YOUR smoke. you on the other hand can just get up and move your chair away from the smoke and stink.
i challenge you wood burners to sit in the smoke and stink of YOUR fire instead of moving your chair to the fresh air side.
i also challenge you to leave your home windows open while you burn your fire pit.
in the long run, you will drive down the value of your own neighborhood. try to sell your house then. who wants to live in a neighborhood of adult children that smells like a war zone?

1 person likes this
Posted by Sid
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 10, 2010 at 8:38 pm

I too have a neighbor who has some weird need to burn wood every night in his backyard fire pit. He has a new wife and this must be his way to romance her. I am so sick of running a closing all my windows. His fire pit is near my bedroom and I have to close my windows on nice summer nights because of this. Isn't there a law to stop these fire bugs from ruining the air??? I am so sick of smelling his smoke and now feel like I must move. I am in my 60s and this is not something that I yearn to do since I love my home. Anyone have any answers???

Just call me smoked out with red eyes. :-(

1 person likes this
Posted by ABR
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Feb 16, 2013 at 2:46 pm

My new neighbors across the back yard have dug a massive hole and currently have a wood bonfire going!!!! I thought the house was on fire when came home there was so much smoke.

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Posted by JSD
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 16, 2013 at 2:57 pm

Has anyone spoken to their wood-burning neighbors?

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Posted by second hand smoke
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 16, 2013 at 6:28 pm

Depends what they are burning, but some of these fires are much worse for you than second-hand cigarette smoke. They are especially dangerous for children.

1 person likes this
Posted by Another Sufferer
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 29, 2013 at 8:25 pm

Our neighbor burns a wood fire in their fireplace every night, all night long. We must close all our windows tight, and even though we have new windows, this doesn't keep all the smoke out.

Smoking cigarettes is prohibited throughout the open spaces in the city, but these wood fires are allowed. They do orders of magnitude more damage to health than cigarettes.

We have pointed out the health consequences of wood smoke to these neighbors, but they continue their nightly wood fires. Maybe they get free wood somewhere?

How can we convince them to stop?

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Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 29, 2013 at 9:51 pm

I have the same problem. My neighbor to the back's older children seem to think it's cool to light a big fire, and my whole backyard fills up with smoke, and my house. I have no idea what they are burning, but I don't think it's just firewood. It smells like they are burning wood with paint it on, perhaps old paint with lead in it - I don't know. Once the smoke comes in my house from an open window, I smell it for a while. I don't like it and I think it is really inconsiderate.

The other thing is that unless I peak over the fence or actually see something going on, I have no idea if this is just someone having a fire, or someone's house on fire. Having lots of distracting smoke could prevent a real fire from being detected and reacted to.

It just as nasty as smoking, and it affects a lot more people. This should only be done on very cold days by people with chimneys that are really high so the smoke goes up and doesn't bother local people. How inconsiderate can you be anyway.

And I agree with Tyler above, people who just come here to call others complainers or tell them if you don't like it move out or some other variation should think before they act.

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Posted by Chris Zaharias
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 30, 2013 at 7:30 am

We'll have our fair share of wood fires in our fireplace this winter, but won't do any outside fireplace burning; as much as I like the right to a good fire, it doesn't seem reasonable to do so given how low the smoke source is and how close homes are the one to the other.

1 person likes this
Posted by Ann
a resident of another community
on Jun 15, 2014 at 12:47 pm

We have been having a smoke problem with are neighbors for many years. As for talking to them, we have twice and his wife told us to get a higher fence. We close our windows and doors, plug our mailbox and doors. We have also purchased 3 air purifiers to know avail. One time it was so bad, we called the fire department didn't do much good. I just don't get why people have to pretend they are out in the wood instead of going there. [Portion removed.]

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Posted by Mr.Recycle
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 15, 2014 at 2:31 pm

I like the smell of smoke. You may have noticed when you moved to Palo Alto there were already an abundance of chimneys protruding from homes, so you had fair warning. If you really hate smoke, there are plenty of modern hermetically sealed apartment towers in the downtowns of cities where you wouldn't have to worry about it.

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Posted by Rupert of henzau
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 15, 2014 at 2:40 pm

[Post removed.]

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Posted by Complaint Hotline
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 15, 2014 at 11:06 pm

Here is a link to the Bay Area Air Quality Management Hotline
to complain about wood smoke.

Web Link

1 person likes this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 16, 2014 at 1:43 am

Wow, look like you hit a nerve. I have neighbors that do this ... maybe once a month, and it really bugs me ... like you it goes right into my open windows.

First my nostril flare and I get all worried that someone's house is on fire and walk around trying to figure out where it is coming from, them I realize it is my jerk neighbors burning stuff just to be annoying.

I don't like it, I don't think it should be legal in the city. Today this kind of wood smoke, and you never know what is being burned, it could be trash, lumber, paint or paper with chemicals in it. I don't like to have my health based on the knowledge level and consideration of people I don't know.

Today just asking someone, a neighbor of whomever to be nice or considerate can earn you dirty looks and a bad relationship for years. Just remove the temptation and make this illegal. If people want radiant heat outside in their backyards, let them buy those gas heaters you see at restaurants with street seating.

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Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 16, 2014 at 1:48 am

Mr Recycle:
>> I like the smell of smoke. You may have noticed when you moved to Palo Alto there were already an abundance of chimneys protruding from homes, so you had fair warning.

Great, shut yourself up in your house and breathe all the RECYCLED smoke you want.

If everyone who had a chimney lit them whenever they could and all the same time I think you would even be overwhelmed ... that is the point. Unless it is something we can all do, there will always be those who abuse their rights and do not care what effect they have on their neighbor, hiding behind the fact that a majority in the city will not know what kind of person they are.

What was the norm 100 years ago when most of the Palo Alto houses were built, or the more recent ones that contained chimneys for traditional reasons ... not heating reasons ... is not the norm or reasonable or healthy or particularly nice today.

The world's changing and some people want to resist it to the death ... smoke away, by all means, in your own house.

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Posted by Complaint Hotline
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 16, 2014 at 6:32 am

They have had burn bans in the Seattle area (Puget Sound) for over 15 years since the air quality was so bad. Only homes without any other source of heat were allowed to have fireplace fires.

I can remember that fireplace fires were unpopular in Palo Alto 45 years ago in Palo Alto, not only because of the smoke, but the possible danger of sparks from the chimney of one home catching another home or tree on fire. This may have been in the pre-spark arrestor days, but the bothersome smoke was a concern back then too.

1 person likes this
Posted by The Future
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 16, 2014 at 1:37 pm

Backyard fire pits are yet another example of the "Me first, screw you" attitude that is becoming more and more pervasive in this city.

1 person likes this
Posted by Michelle Derviss
a resident of another community
on Jun 20, 2014 at 10:42 pm

I'm a solution based person. We already have health and safety laws in place for all new residential homes to install gas fire places. Why not meet people half way and allow back yard fire pits but ask that they burn gas instead of wood ? The burners get to have a fire and those who do not want to be subjected to toxic smoke won't have wood smoke and all its particulate matter infiltrating their homes and lungs. Seems like a fair compromise to me.

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Posted by Get a big fan
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 21, 2014 at 6:45 am

The real problem is that the people getting smoked out live next to selfish jerks. There is a lot of that going around lately.

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