Ask a Dispatcher
Q. Two of my neighbors frequently have bonfires in their yards. The smoke means I can't stay long on the patio and have to shut the windows on my house even when it's hot. I have had no luck in the past getting them to stop. What can I do?
Dear Juneau Resident,
This is certainly a tough situation. There are a number of legal considerations, which we will cover, none of which will probably make for better neighborhood relationships. The issue comes down to balancing someone’s legal right to burn against someone’s legal right to enjoy his or her property.
You might want to consider multiple options at this point. People are strongly motivated by both the positive and negative consequences of treating each other like we were treated. A positive example is that if you invite someone over to your house and they bring a dessert or flowers, when you go to that person's house you feel like you need to reciprocate. On the negative side of human nature, JPD often sees when a neighbor reports someone to the police or fire over a nuisance, like this nuisance fire, the other person feels obligated to report the original reporter for something or anything, or at least do something to make the reporter unhappy. Of course, sometimes the complaining neighbor's quality of life is so compromised and the nuisance makers so unreasonable there just is no choice but to involve enforcement actions but you should feel you have exhausted lower level intervention first. Then if a feud ensues you will know the conflict was inevitable despite the fact you were incredibly reasonable and nice about the situation.
You said you have approached them before but maybe think of a way to approach when the situation isn't happening, approach the most reasonable adult in that household, and maybe offer some ground rules. You ask that the bonfires be limited to only a certain night of the week, like Friday. You could ask if the wind is blowing in a certain direction if they will do you a favor and not burn. Maybe you can cause them to feel like they want to be good neighbors.
If you decide it is time to take the step of asking the fire department to intervene, call 586-0600 and ask to report a nuisance fire at the time it is happening and smoke is entering your property. The fire department may respond, it depends on other calls at the time, and the fire Captain on duty will assess the situation. The people burning may be asked to put the fire out until the wind changes or may have a permit revoked or a citation could be issued. It is really up the Captain who responds and looks things over and talks to the involved people.