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By Shawn Raymundo

The City Council on Tuesday, May 7, introduced a new ordinance meant to provide the city with more definitive authority when it comes to enforcing prohibitions of open fires.

“Our code, while it currently prohibits open fires in parks and our fire code also prohibits open fires in high-fire risks, there’s no blanket prohibitions on open fires in city code,” Development Services Director Joel Rojas told the council.

Rojas said the proposed regulations came at the request of San Juan Capistrano Fire Chief Rob Capobianco, who wants the cities he covers to augment municipal codes and enhance prohibition procedures.

“We are asking the cities to give some enforcement teeth to hopefully prevent some of these fires from occurring out in the open spaces,” Capobianco said.

The ordinance proposes to add language in the city’s municipal code that would ban open fires as well as ban flammable or combustible liquids from being used throughout the city. The new language would also require that any permitted open fire be attended by someone at least 21 years old with a portable fire extinguisher on hand.

Violating such regulations would also be considered a misdemeanor, according to the city. Fireplaces and barbecues currently authorized in city parks, as well as portable fires, fireplaces and fire rings in private yards, would be exempt from the proposed regulations.

“Also because most of our prohibitions are mostly in the (California) Fire Code, that puts the enforcement authority with (the Orange County Fire Authority), and we think it would be much more efficient if the city had enforcement authority so that we can use our enforcement officer and our citation authority to pursue any code violations,” Rojas said.

City Manager Ben Siegel further explained to The Capistrano Dispatch that under such enforcement capabilities, the city would be able to respond to calls of illegal open fires by sending out a code enforcement officer to the location who can try to identify the individual responsible for igniting the fire.

“There was ambiguity in the code; we think this makes it abundantly clear about what’s allowed and what’s not allowed and where it’s allowed and not allowed,” Siegel said.

According to the city, the proposed ordinance will return for a second reading and adoption by the council during the next meeting on Tuesday, May 21.

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