Marathon voters to decide on local fire rules

Residents of the city of Marathon will decide in November if outdoor fires should be restricted in city limits.

Resident Karen Farley-Wilkinson wants such restrictions and says others do, too. She hired an attorney to draft a proposed ordinance that would regulate outdoor fires. She wouldn't say who that attorney is.

She had circulated a petition that said "we the undersigned registered voters of the city of Marathon want to establish an open burning ordinance," calling it in "the best interest of the public health, safety and welfare of the residents of the city of Marathon."

She collected and submitted 607 signatures to City Clerk Diane Clavier. County Elections Supervisor Joyce Griffin certified 578 of them as valid voters and city residents, the minimum needed to place a referendum on the Nov. 3 ballot. Valid petitions are based on the number of total registered voters in the city.

The draft ordinance she submitted to the city is vague and unenforceable, according to the city's former interim law firm, Vernis and Bowling.

On Aug. 25, the City Council voted Farley-Wilkinson's proposed ordinance down after Fire Chief John Johnson said his department responded to 12 outdoor fires in the past 18 months.

"If it's a nuisance to a neighbor, we'll put it out," Johnson said. "If they're burning refuse or garbage, they're obviously spoken to. At that point, most of them put it out."

Johnson and Code Director Stacy Charlton said writing citations can be difficult since there are numerous visitors to the city. Vacationers staying at a vacation rental home could get cited for a fire but it would be up to the property owner to pay the fine, Johnson said. Charlton added she has never been called for a fire violation.

Farley-Wilkinson said state law is enough to stop people from starting dangerous fires.

"We've submitted our petition, it went through all the loopholes," she said. "Some of the [signers] said to me, 'You know something? We have people who come into vacation rentals with these enormous fires.' "

Under state law, outdoor fires can be only 8 feet in diameter. They must be 150 feet away from occupied buildings and 25 feet from your own home, brush and combustible structures.

It is also illegal to burn garbage, including paper products, treated lumber, plastics, rubber materials, tires, pesticides, paint and aerosol containers.

Under the city code of ordinances, anyone cited for an improper fire could be fined less than $500.

The proposed ordinance submitted by Farley-Wilkinson states, "Open burning, outdoor burning and refuse burning are prohibited in the City of Marathon." Fires related to grilling, cooking, campfires, stoves and fireplaces would be exempt.

According to Clavier, the City Council will discuss how the language will appear on the ballot at an upcoming meeting this month.