Reprieve for barbecue, Christmas tree bans

Saturday, June 12, 2004

Associated Press
King 5 News

SPOKANE, Wash. - Christmas trees and Fourth of July barbecues are safe, for now.

The rules are rooted in reality, like this balcony barbecue fire in Seattle that nearly burned down the whole building.
The State Building Code Council on Friday delayed the scheduled July 1 start of rules that would have banned some barbecues from apartment balconies and Christmas trees from churches and schools.

After receiving hundreds of letters and e-mails, the council sent both issues into rule-making, meaning they will be the subject of future public hearings before permanent adoption -- or rejection -- by the end of the year.

Council members said they were reluctant to intrude into lifestyle issues, but also felt a duty to protect public health and safety.

"A lot of fire services would really like to see this. It addresses an issue that is really close to us," Dave Kokot of the Spokane Fire Department said after the council's vote.

Steve Nuttall, Bellevue fire marshal and council member, said there are relatively few reports of Christmas tree fires in churches and schools, but said fire services strongly support bans on open flames on combustible apartment decks that lack sprinklers.

The rules were part of a new International Building Code that was being adopted by Washington state.

The state Legislature approved adoption of the new rules last year after the state building code council recommended it.

But state Sen. Joyce Mulliken, R-Ephrata, wrote recently to the building code council, urging it to reject the international fire code as unenforceable.

"You can't go into churches and apartments to see if someone indeed has candles lit or is barbecuing illegally," she wrote. "We still have protections from unlawful searches in our country."

The council voted to change language in a section that would have banned fresh cut Christmas trees in churches, schools, prisons and other public buildings that lack fire sprinklers, then declined to adopt the section on barbecues.

Washington is a leading Christmas tree producer, and the vote to reject the international code language appeared to be easier.

"It would be absurd to outlaw live Christmas trees, well, fresh dead Christmas trees in Washington," council member Chris Endresen said.

"I've never been able to buy a Christmas tree that dried out," member Peter DeVries said. "To try to restrict them is like using a shotgun to kill a flea."

The new building rules would have prohibited the use of open-flame gas or charcoal barbecues around apartment balconies unless there was a sprinkler overhead. The rules apply to multifamily residential buildings of three or more attached units.

Fire officials said incidents of apartment balcony and deck fires are growing, putting more people at risk from their neighbors' carelessness.

No representatives of apartment owners or residents attended the meeting. Council member John Neff said he's received e-mails on the barbecue ban from both groups who "begged me to make sure it stays in the code."



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