Calhoun: Wake-Up Call

John Hickenlooper bans open fires -- but they're already illegal in Denver

The smell of smoke is in the air. It could be a long-distance reminder of the High Park Fire still raging outside Fort Collins. Or it could be your next-door neighbors here in Denver, lighting up their illicit fire pit. Or their completely illegal chimenea.

While Governor John Hickenlooper just banned open burning in Colorado (campfires in authorized fire pits at authorized recreation sites are still allowed), few people realize that outdoor fires were already banned in Denver -- and have been since long before this hot, hot season.

But most big-box stores in Denver don't warn their customers who are buying firepits and outdoor fireplaces and chimeneas that they can't use these amenities within city limits. Few property owners are aware of this...until the Denver Fire Department comes knocking on their door, lured by the smell of smoke...or perhaps a call from a nosy neighbor.

"You can't have an open burn without a permit," says Lieutenant Phil Champagne, department spokesman. "Home Depot doesn't tell you that."

Property owners can get special permits -- that's what restaurants with fire pits and fireplaces do in Denver -- but they are very rare. Because not only must the fire department sign off on an outdoor fire, but so must the Denver Department of Environmental Health. And while the fire department is primarily concerned with safety, DEH is worried about health issues from second-hand wood smoke as well as air quality, and rarely approves those permits.

Last year, DEH issued exactly eight permits -- three for school/community special events, two for vegetation control, two for fire training, and one for religious/cultural reasons.

Don't cancel your Father's Day barbecue, though: Grills and smokers are legal in Denver -- so long as they have a cover and are used solely to cook food.

Legal for now, that is. But in the long hot summer ahead, fire bans could spread faster than the High Park fire.

Travel bloggers are converging on Colorado this weekend, and we've given them an alternative itinerary with this list of ten weird Denver-area places.

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun