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Sunbury’s Burning Issue

July 10th, 2013

Outside Fires? Not Within City Limits!

Do you suffer from anti-social neighbors who insist on regularly lighting fires in their yards? Outdoor wood burning furnaces and home-made fire pits are becoming more popular these days, but for those obliged to breathe this smoke they are far from welcome.

This is the situation faced by Cheryl Snyder and Joe Metz of Susquehanna Avenue. Cheryl, a retired chemist, suffers from asthma. They were originally from Sunbury and returned to the city 7 years ago, happy to find that burn barrels had been consigned to history and that the air quality was very much improved.

Joe Metz & Cheryl Snyder

Joe Metz & Cheryl Snyder


Massive Fire Pit

However, this all changed recently when neighbors decided to construct a massive fire pit in their yard. This monstrosity is made from wire mesh and measures around 2 feet x 2 feet x 3 feet high. When it is in use, which is frequently, the whole thing is filled with wood. It is only around 6 feet from the rear wall of a double house but belches forth flames, clouds of sparks and copious amounts of choking smoke.

Cheryl and Joe are virtual prisoners in their home, unable to venture outside or even to open their windows, so bad is the smoke situation.

They called out the city code officers, but Messrs. Swope and Rhoads took one look at the neighbors home-made pit and announced that there was nothing they could do about it. Next they called out the police. The two officers who attended said that they were unable to help. They had been instructed by two city councilmen not to interfere with people burning wood in their yards – a statement vehemently denied by Mayor Persing, legal head of the city police department, at the city meeting of July 8th. We are unable to comment on the veracity of this denial.

Home-made Fire Pit

Home-made Fire Pit

At the previous city meeting of June 24th Persing had promised Cheryl to have an answer for her at the next meeting. At this subsequent meeting he put on a master class in prevarication. Despite the clear rules in the city code, he was desperately trying to wriggle off the hook on which he had impaled himself. It is no longer, according to him, an issue of having a device in which to burn wood – it is all about responsible usage – about how well a fire is controlled and how much smoke it gives off!

That kind of a fuzzy law is impossible to enforce – but leaves the door wide open for those whom the mayor happens to like, and for city workers, including at least one member of the Mayor’s staff, to have the biggest fires they can build, with everyone else being subjected to intimidation and coercion and citation if they dare to even strike a match in their yards.

We have become well used to these kinds of shenanigans in Sunbury over the course of 20 years of Mayor Persing. Cronyism is rife in City Hall – just witness the way in which our code officers go about their business. Certain sacred cows cannot be touched and everyone else is fair game for intimidation and harassment.

Todd Snyder added his own piece of confusion to the discussion. He said that the City have no powers to prevent people from going out and buying these devices. That is correct Todd. However, what the City does have is the power, under present codes (see below), to stop people from using these units within city limits.

Cheryl Snyder called him out on this (Francis Scarcella in the Daily Persing referred to her reasoned arguments as venting) – “Going by your principles, what is to stop me going out and buying an AR-15 – perfectly legal thing to do – and then firing it at targets in my yard?” This question caused much head scratching and glazed looks, but little in the way of meaningful or thoughtful reply.

Medical, Safety & Legal Problems

Medically-speaking the issue is very simple:

• The Surgeon General has determined that there is no safe level of exposure to ambient smoke!

• If you smell even a subtle odor of smoke, you are being exposed to poisonous and carcinogenic compounds!

• Even a brief exposure to smoke raises blood pressure, (no matter what your state of health) and can cause blood clotting, stroke, or heart attack in vulnerable people. Even children experience elevated blood pressure when exposed to smoke!

• Since smoke drastically weakens the lungs’ immune system, avoiding smoke is one of the best ways to prevent colds, flu, bronchitis, or risk of an even more serious respiratory illness, such as pneumonia or tuberculosis!

Turning to safety, the sparks from some of these fires can be very dangerous to adjacent and adjoining properties. It only takes one spark landing in the wrong place to start a fire, and with the smell of smoke which is all around, the detection of such fires may also be delayed with a corresponding increase in their potential for serious property damage and even a threat to life.

Finally we have the legal situation. Despite claims made by Persing on Monday, claims echoed Wednesday by his mouthpiece the Daily Item, under present codes it is not legal to have yard fires. The codes mention that “the types of fuel used and the scale and duration of burning by outdoor wood burning furnaces creates noxious and hazardous smoke, soot, fumes, odors and air pollution, can be detrimental to citizens’ health, and can deprive neighboring residents of the enjoyment of their property or premises,” and announces an “intention of the City of Sunbury council members to establish and impose restrictions upon the construction and operation of outdoor wood burning furnaces within the limits of the City for the purpose of securing and promoting the public health, comfort, convenience, safety, welfare and prosperity of the City and its inhabitants.”

Section 53.7 goes even further: “the construction, installation and operation of outdoor wood burning furnaces, also known as “solid-fuel heating devices” or “external heating devices,” are hereby prohibited within the City of Sunbury.”

Clear enough to most people, but apparently not to Mr. Persing It is as if he has come to believe in his invincibility and in that of his administration. That together, they can willfully and repeatedly violate laws without fear of repercussion? Does the Mayor now think he is beyond the law? Perhaps he is living by the rules of Louis XVI of France – “It is legal because I wish it.” Everyone knows how he ended up!

Some say this issue is about personal freedoms and liberties. However, those without fires also have rights – the right to clean air and the right to sit on their porches, to open their windows, to enjoy their property and their yards without having to fear for their health, or worse in the case of asthma sufferers.

Living in a city does mean that the rights of the community as a whole become paramount. Those who may want to pursue an individual lifestyle, free from the restrictions of urban dwelling have a simple choice – go live in the country where the nearest neighbors are far enough away that they will not be bothered by such activities.

Special City Meeting – Your Opportunity to Protest!

Everyone concerned or affected by these activities, and by the lack of code enforcement, will have an opportunity to voice their concerns directly to the Mayor. He has called a public meeting for 7 pm next Wednesday, July 17th, at City Hall. Mark that date in your diaries or calendars and make sure you attend. A low turnout will play right into his hands!


One Coment

  • navygirl84 says on: July 14, 2013 at 11:45 am


    I happen to live next door to the famous fire pit and it is Not made of chicken wire, it is very contained, Antisocial are you kidding me, these are the kind of neighbors everybody would like to have! What’s next a swimming pool because the chlorine is too strong! You people need to seriously get a life, My suggestion to you is to move to the high rises where they have no back yards!

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