Residents’ debate still hot over bonfires

By Chris Jackett
Sunday Times Newspapers

WYANDOTTE – Summer bonfires and backyard gatherings have become common in the Downriver area, but residents here recently approached the City Council with complaints about open burning.

A handful of them are protesting open burning because the smoke from their neighbors’ fires floats through the air and into surrounding houses. Some don’t like the smell, while others’ objections are more medically related.

“The Fire Department receives very few complaints annually with regards to open burning, but does take any citizen complaint very serious when we are called,” Fire Chief Michael MacDonald said in a letter to the mayor and council dated June 15. “It is my experience that many of these complaints are based on neighborhood disputes and not legitimate medical conditions.

“I am very cognizant of the fact that there are residents which have issues with opening burning, whether it is medically related or simply the dislike of the smell of burning wood, but it is extremely difficult to enforce an outright ban due to the sheer number of these outdoor fire pits in our city.”

Resident Ardith Linenfelser is “a severe asthmatic and has to close (her) windows on beautiful fresh-air evenings because there are fires on three sides of us,” but said that isn’t the basis for her complaint.

“Many years ago, an ordinance was passed by someone who said the air was becoming too polluted and we needed to do something about it,” Linenfelser said in a June 16 letter to the mayor and council. “Those of us who had gas incinerators in our basement unhooked them, put them in the trash, bought garbage disposals, disposed of our fall leaves and other trash in an appropriate manner and did not grumble. We did it because that was going to help save this Earth and the air surrounding it for future generations.”

Although such changes took place more than 30 years ago, Linenfelser said the ordinances should tie in with restrictions on present-day bonfires. Residents Larry Rushlow and Mark Woodward also chimed in with requests for stricter open-burning ordinances.

“I have reviewed Wayne County ordinances and was unable to locate any ordinance that directly speaks to an open-burning ban in the county,” MacDonald said. “I did find references that it is not permissible in Wayne County to burn trash, grass clippings and brush as a means of disposal.”

Linenfelser recalls such an instance, but doesn’t see the difference. To her, burning is burning.

“About 18 years ago, the Fire Department showed up next door to us where a new home was being built to tell the builder he must put out the fire he had built to get rid of leftover wood,” she said. “I don’t see the difference between burning leftover wood from builders and burning wood in the fire pits of ordinary citizens.”

At Monday’s council meeting, members advised residents to abide by fire officials’ guidelines for recreational fires and fire pits, which are available online and will be displayed more prominently around the community.

“I would ask all city of Wyandotte residents to please give every consideration to your neighbors while enjoying the outdoors,” MacDonald said.

(Contact Chris Jackett at