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Some inflamed over BBQ ban at apartments, condos

Kyle Magin / North Lake Tahoe Bonanza
and Elaine Goodman
Dan Thrift / Tahoe Daily TribuneA barbeque grill sits at an apartment complex near Sonora and Birch avenues. The outdoor cooking devices are subjected to fire-safety regulations around the lake.
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While a controversy has flared up on the North Shore regarding the use of barbecue grills on the balconies of apartments and condominiums, South Shore communities have their own barbecue rules.

Concerns about barbecue safety prompted the North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District to better publicize its rules on barbecue use at multifamily complexes. The rules themselves are not new, but residents now are hearing more about them.

“The reason we’re announcing this now and looking to educate the community is because of complaints,” said NLTFPD Fire Marshal Tom Smith. “One of those issues came up when someone perceived their neighbor was using a grill carelessly.”

Smith said he also has received complaints from condominium management about people leaving their grills on or creating smoke that bothered neighbors.

“So we contacted the management at local condominium associations to start educating people on the ordinances which have been in place for a long time,” Smith said.

Under the rules, propane and charcoal grills and most other outdoor cooking devices are banned from the decks of multifamily dwellings. The rules don’t apply to single-family homes or duplexes.

The code allows charcoal grills to remain on the decks or balconies of multifamily dwellings if the building is equipped with a permanent sprinkler system that protects the decks and balconies. The district also allows natural-gas grills that are permanently installed and meet the grill manufacturers’ specifications.

These rules about barbecue grills have been in place since at least 1991, Smith said. But that hasn’t prevented a backlash.

“The simple pleasure of grilling a steak is now a crime, punishable by a citation,” Incline Village resident Pamela Miller said in a letter to the North Lake Tahoe Bonanza. “Talk about excessive government regulation: Why don’t we just cut to the chase, and adopt Communism as our form of government right now?”

Smith said unsafe grill use is a particular problem in multifamily dwellings such as condominiums because the barbecue is putting neighbors at risk.

“When there is the possibility that a grill could start a fire which would burn another structure, then it becomes a problem for the fire-prevention folks,” Smith said.

NLTFPD’s rules on barbecuing were adopted from the International Fire Code.

Similar rules are in place in the Tahoe Douglas Fire Protection District, which serves the area of Douglas County at Lake Tahoe, including upper Kingsbury Grade.

Charcoal-burning barbecues and other open-flame cooking devices are prohibited on combustible balconies or within 10 feet of combustible construction at multifamily complexes of more than two units.

The prohibition also applies to natural-gas barbecues, said Tahoe Douglas Assistant Fire Marshal Mark Novak. An exception is made if the building is equipped with a sprinkler system that extends to balconies.

Propane barbecues are allowed if they use the smaller-style tanks, which Novak described as smaller than a football and used for camping.

South Lake Tahoe doesn’t have specific rules regarding barbecues.

The section of the International Fire Code pertaining to open-flame cooking devices was not adopted into the California fire code and hence was not included in the local regulations, said South Lake Tahoe Fire Marshal Ray Zachau.

Within city limits, open fires are prohibited except for cooking, Zachau said. The prohibition applies to burning leaves or other rubbish, and to the popular practice of building a backyard fire to keep warm during an outdoor party.

In fact, it’s not unheard of for the hosts of an outdoor party to pull out a package of hot dogs and start cooking when authorities respond to the otherwise illegal fire, Zachau said.

Even though the city lacks a barbecue prohibition, firefighters still are able to “order any (fire) hazard abated or discontinued,” Zachau said. “That’s what we do on a case-by-case basis.”

The department receives a number of calls from residents whose downstairs neighbors are barbecuing and are bothered by the smoke wafting up.

“It’s one of our more common complaints,” Zachau said.


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