Crowd angry with proposed ban on campfires

MANSFIELD – About three dozen people packed Wednesday’s borough council meeting to standing-room-only to protest the proposed ban on burning campfires within borough limits.

Borough council has been discussing the ban for several months and, at a recent meeting, discussed it at length. The ordinance carries fines of $75 for a first offense, $150 for a second, $325 for a third and $500 for the fourth.

The idea for the ban came about because of complaints council members received about some residents burning unsafe materials and even trash within the borough in campfires, at all hours of the day and night.

Decker Street resident Spike Rumsey said he’s “had a hundred fires there, parties for my family, and always kept it under control, burned clean wood, roasted hot dogs, S’mores, and I always make sure the fire is out at night, not smoldering,” he said.

Rumsey said he has heard there has been some issues with people getting smoke indoors and with out-of-control burning.

“I don’t think everyone in town should be punished for a couple people’s activity. If your neighbor is getting smoke in the house, I am sure you can work it out with your neighbor. It’s a family thing, something everybody does,” he said to applause from the room.

The rest of the people who spoke, many from the South Academy Street area, echoed Rumsey’s comments.

Kelvin Morgan, of Academy Street, asked why council was bringing up the issue.

“Have we had a lot of fires with reckless people? I haven’t heard of any. You are taking our livelihood if you change these rules. We should have rules, but not to the extreme where common ordinary folk can’t have a fire,” he said, referring to those in the borough who sell firewood to their neighbors.

Annette Mase, of East Main Street, said she uses her fire to cook, because she doesn’t have a grill.

“I don’t understand why, after hundreds of years, we would change a policy that affects so many more people than are here tonight,” she said.

Kevin Starks, of South Academy Street, agreed, saying “it’s our history, the Native Americans did it, we are going to do it. A fire is a fire, let’s respect each other and get along.”

Scott Johnson, of St. James Street, said he closes his windows if smoke from his neighbors’ fire comes into his house.

After the crowd left, Councilman Bruce Dart recommended sending the ordinance back to committee.

Council President Heather Morgan said she felt the setback of 20 to 25 feet was excessive for backyard campfires.

“Other boroughs don’t have this 25-foot setback,” she said.

Codes enforcement Officer Shawn Forrest said the setbacks were taken from the 2003 fire code.

Dart said he has seen people have “huge fires in my neighborhood at three properties. One of them was a gas grill that was on fire and I thought they had set a sofa on fire, that’s how big it was.”

Councilman Evan Perry said people can have the right to a campfire until it infringes on other people’s rights to breathe clean air in their own homes.