Should Silverthorne ban residential bonfires? |

Should Silverthorne ban residential bonfires?

Sparks come off a bonfire at night in this stock image. Citing health concerns for their children, a Silverthorne couple is hoping their town council will support a ban on open fires in residential areas.
Getty Images/iStockphoto | iStockphoto

Saying they have no other means for recourse, a Silverthorne couple came before their town council Wednesday and begged its members to support a town ban on residential bonfires.

Pete and Caroline Szuch live with their children on East Rabbit Court in the Willowbrook neighborhood, and they’ve been having issues with their neighbor’s reoccurring bonfires. The couple says the fires are an almost nightly occurrence, and the flames can be seen lapping up over a 6-foot privacy fence dividing the two lots.

“I’d like to put these particular bonfires in perspective,” Pete Szuch told council. “You’re talking about a very small backyard. The fire is within feet of the 6-foot privacy fence. You’re within 10 to 15 yards on either side of other residences. It just doesn’t seem practical.”

The Szuches claim their neighbor’s bonfires flare up often and at all times of the day, even in the morning. The way the couple describes the problem, the bonfires have made them prisoners in their own home, or more accurately, the smoke has.

“The smoke bellows into our house, and the moment we see the embers going over the fence, we’re rushing to close the doors, close the windows,” Pete Szuch explained. “On beautiful summer nights, for health reasons, we have to barricade ourselves in the house.”

Pete Szuch said he’s asked the neighbor to curtail his wood burning, but that discussion went nowhere. What’s worse, Caroline Szuch said, is the effect the smoke is having on their children.

“The reason why we have such an issue with it is our kids are asthmatics so they have been hospitalized because of his bonfires, and we’ve addressed that with him,” she said, adding that she and her husband have even offered to pay their neighbor cash to stop the blazes, “but he adamantly refuses.”

Caroline Szuch went on to say their children are athletes, and the smoke coming into their home on an almost daily basis keeps the children up all night coughing and unable to participate in activities the next day.

The couple said they spoke to their homeowners association and couldn’t get any traction there. They also tried calling local law enforcement, Pete Szuch said, but the dispatcher quickly gravitated to questions like, “Is the fire out of control?” or “Is it unattended?”

“I’m answering the questions, and it basically came down to the dispatcher asking me, ‘So you don’t like this person’s fire?’” Pete Szuch told council.

“That’s not the issue,” he continued. “The issue is we can’t even live in our home on a beautiful summer night without closing everything up, and even when we do that, we still get smoke in our home.”

The Szuches admitted their primary concern is for their children, and the couple conceded that “it’s gotten personal” because of that fact.

Still, in asking council to ban residential bonfires, they came at the issue from all angles, contending that residential bonfires are purely recreational and have no economic impact, suggesting that campfire smoke is much more dangerous than cigarette smoke and imploring council to research its harmful effects.

The Szuches also expressed fears the embers they see floating up and over the 6-foot privacy fence could lead to a wildfire in an area so close to natural forest plagued by beetle kill.

Speaking about general fire safety with no knowledge of the Szuches’ situation or their neighbor’s fires, Steve Lipsher of the Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue District said he can’t remember a residential bonfire ever getting out of hand and starting a major wildfire. He was careful to preface that comment by adding he’s “not so naïve as to say it hasn’t happened in other places.”

“Here’s the deal,” Lipsher said. “Any time you have an open fire, you do have the potential for sparks flying away and catching something else on fire.”

Still, he put preventing wildfires on individual responsibility, saying that any fire should be completely snuffed out and its ashes cool to the touch before leaving it unattended.

Listening to the couple air their grievances, council members asked a couple questions for clarification but offered few comments to suggest where they stood on enacting any kind of ban.

In closing, Mayor Bruce Butler referenced the old adage “there’s two sides to every story” before promising to have town staff look into the matter further.

“Thanks for coming in and bringing it to our attention,” the mayor told the distressed couple. “Like I said, we’ll have a couple folks on staff try and take a look into it so we can find out.”

“Any other citizen’s comments?” Butler asked.

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