Ban limits burning from 180 days to 20

Large amounts of debris still can be burned, with $75/year permit

Gresham city councilors on Tuesday, March 20, unanimously approved an ordinance limiting backyard burning from 180 days a year to 20.

The ordinance, drafted by Gresham Fire Marshal Gus Lian, limits yard debris fires in residential areas to 10 spread-out days in autumn and spring.

It takes effect 45 days following a second enactment reading, scheduled for April 3.

Lian proposed the ban on fires in residential areas, also known as backyard burns, due to the once-rural city's growth, increasing density and a rising number of citizen complaints. Noxious smoke from fires pose health concerns, ranging from itchy eyes to breathing problems.

He wants Gresham to completely ban such burning as Gresham is one of the last cities in the Portland metro area to allow burning in residential areas. Lian also hopes Troutdale, Fairview and Wood Village, which contract with Gresham for fire service, limit such backyard burns.

The ordinance was not without controversy. About five people testified two weeks ago against the change, as did two people on Tuesday, March 20.

Maryann Ott, 81, has 15-foot-tall blueberry bushes, about a dozen orchard trees, an enormous grapevine and hedges on her 3 acres in Gresham. In her 54 years there, she's never 'caught the town on fire, burned trash or had the fire department called on her,' she said during a hearing two weeks ago.

If people who live cheek to jowl burn in their backyards, or if they burn illegal materials such as trash, 'Yes, shut them down,' Ott said. But people with large amounts of yard debris on large lots should be allowed to keep burning.

Lian noted that residents will still be able to burn large amounts of tree branches, hedge clippings and the like. They just need to apply for a $75 open-burn permit that's good for up to a year. Nurseries also can use agricultural burn permits to burn their debris.

Two people spoke in favor of the ban, with a third person spouting off after the meeting that the ban wasn't tough enough.

Gresham resident Ron Macomber said residents now have too many days to burn. He's seen people burning construction debris in Rockwood and even had one neighbor who burned auto parts. Macomber favors the burn ban 'for health and pollution reasons.'

Ron Halcom, however, doesn't think the limitation goes far enough. 'They need a total ban on all residential burning,' Halcom said in a huff after the meeting. Why should his Easthill neighbors be able to stockpile yard clippings for a three-day bonfire when he pays to have his hauled away or recycled? he asked.

Reporter Mara Stine can be reached at mstine@theoutlookon or by calling 503-492-5117.