Wood Smoke Stories

Damaged health and distress in Maine

I have next door neighbors who have a fire pit in which they burn brush and yard debris 4 to 5 days a week for 6–12 hours a day.

Due to prevailing winds and the location of my property, the smoke comes over and fills my yard. Sometimes I can see smoke all over my yard, sometimes I just smell it. This has been going on for 4 years.

I have become increasingly sensitized to the smoke over time, despite wearing a mask when outside and running air purifiers in my home. I have had various chronic symptoms including a sore throat for months, itchy blocked ears, a swollen tongue and irritated eyes. I often have to leave my property when they burn.

With regular exposure I have become more sensitive to the smoke, and now cannot tolerate any exposure to smoke.

I have spoken very respectfully with my neighbors about this several times over the years, asking to work out less frequent burning or find other solutions. They don’t want to change their behavior. I have spoken with my fire dept and we have no regulations about fire pits in my town—they don’t need a burn permit.

I got a note from my doctor expressing that the smoke affects my health and I have spoken with my town health officer and the forest service. The forest service did go over there, but they can only give them a summons if my yard is completely engulfed in smoke.

My neighbors smoke still comes over here multiple times per week, my yard smells of smoke and I am affected, but often there’s not enough visible smoke over here to call the forest service.

This has caused me physical issues and severe emotional stress. I have spent 4 years trying to work this out reasonably with my neighbors and get help from authorities. The situation has ruined my ability to be outside in my yard.

I am now working with a state rep to discuss better regulation of fire pits in my state (Maine), but this is an uphill battle because people want to keep their “right” to have these fire pits.

I cannot and don’t want to sell my home. I have an elderly parent who lives next door and I need to be here to assist her. My neighbors’ selfish behavior has been a major hardship for me. I believe fire pits should be strongly regulated or banned. Their increasing use is a public health menace.

Smoke hangs heavily in the air over a tree-lined rural gravel road.