By Alex Lippa
---- — When Newton resident Renee King became pretty heated when she heard about a state Senate proposal aimed at campfires.
The bill would have prohibited all outdoor fires less than 300 feet from a neighboring residence. It also would have prevented any smoke from an outdoor fire from crossing a property line.
“It’s ludicrous,” King said yesterday. “Campfires are something that is so New Hampshire. There are a lot of better things for the state to spend time and money on.”
But after hearing negative response from constituents, the bill’s sponsor said it would be amended.
Now, the bill says only that a health officer may order a fire to be put out if it’s creating a health issue.
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is scheduled to hear the bill tomorrow morning.
“We wanted to see the reaction it would get,” said Sen. John Reagan, R-Deerfield, the bill’s sponsor. “Once the bill notice gets published, that gets people interested.”
Some local officials remain skeptical, even after the bill was amended.
Hampstead health officer Kristopher Emerson said he thinks there could be enforcement issues.
“It’s going to be extremely hard to determine and enforce because we need to know what level of smoke is the threshold,” Emerson said. “If the wording in the proposed legislation isn’t clear it will be difficult.”
Sen. Nancy Stiles, who represents Newton, agreed with Emerson.
“I just don’t know how it’s going to be enforceable,” Stiles said. “I’m open to all discussion, but you just can’t control which way the wind blows.”
Londonderry fire Chief Kevin MacCaffrie said campfires really aren’t much of a problem for his department. Brush fires are a much bigger concern, he said.
“They produce more smoke and can travel longer distances,” he said. “If you’re using a campfire for cooking or general outside entertainment, it really wouldn’t be much different than a wood stove putting out chimney smoke.”
Reagan said he was prompted to sponsor the legislation after a constituent wrote to him about health issues associated with fires. The writer said he and his son have asthma and suffer when a neighbor has an outside fire, Reagan said.
His proposal was based on a Maine state, Reagan said. There, the state limits incinerators to a minimum of 300 feet from an abutting property, but it doesn’t address open fires.
Rep. Joe Duarte, R-Candia, originally co-sponsored the proposal, saying he had “faith” in Reagan’s bill. But after talking with his town’s fire chief, he decided it needed some revamping.
“With 300 feet, you are talking a football field,” he said. “A lot of people just don’t have that kind of footage.”
Duarte said he wished he and other lawmakers had more time to review proposals before signing on as co-sponsors.
“The problem is that we are rushing stuff out of the holster,” he said. “When you are limited with time, these things happen. We should have more time to look at these things and get comments from people.”