Newton resident burning up over fine

| 21 Feb 2012 | 10:51

    NEWTON-Anwar Qarmout was preparing to cook hamburgers for his family. He prefers to cook over natural wood on his backyard grill. But Newton's fire official, Joseph C. Inga, saw something beyond a legal recreational fire, and slapped a $750 fine on Qarmout "for the refusal to extinguish an open burn." The heated dispute occurred mid-afternoon on Sept. 24, when Qarmout was burning wood in his grill at his Woodside Avenue home. Inga said he smelled the burning wood from the corner of Woodside Avenue, and followed the aroma to find smoke rising from Qarmout's backyard. "He was burning debris from his yard, leaves and sticks were sticking out, exceeding the limits of the grill," explained Inga. "This was not a recreational fire for cooking. This was an open burn." Qarmout said he has no reason to burn debris. "I have a landscaper who takes care of my property," he explained. "I used newspaper to light twigs and sticks for kindling, and then put a log on so I could cook over the natural wood," he said. "I didn't have a problem with him coming to investigate the smoke, but I do think this guy abused his authority, and this is a nonsense violation." After Qarmout's initial refusal to douse the fire, Inga returned with a police officer. By this time, hot dogs and burgers were on the table. Qarmout was on the phone with the co-owner of the property, Kenneth Ellman of Newton, who was also named on the violation. Qarmout said Ellman wanted Inga to cite the law prohibiting the grill fire. After Qarmout refused a second time to put the fire out, Inga issued a notice of code violation and fine amounting to a $750 against Qarmout and Ellman, with the corresponding fire codes attached. Qarmout then poured a pail of water on the grill. Qarmout has filed an appeal with the Sussex County Uniform Construction Code Board of Appeals, with no hearing date set as of the filing of this story. The application fee for a hearing before the code board is $100. If the matter is settled without a hearing, the application fee is returned. "If I actually break the law n if I'm speeding and get pulled over, for example n I pay the fine and walk away," said Qarmout. "But if I get harassed, if a public official misuses codes, I'm going to fight for my rights." The law attached to the summons states that "the fire official shall prohibit ‘open burning' that will be offensive or objectionable due to smoke or odor emissions when atmospheric conditions or local circumstances make such fires hazardous. The fire official shall order the extinguishment, by the permit holder or the fire department, of any ‘open burning' that creates or adds to a hazardous or objectionable situation." Qarmout counters that the same law defines a "recreational fire" as "an outdoor fire utilized to cook food for human consumption," and states that such open burning "shall be allowed without prior notification to the fire official." A professional property owner, with ties to two dozen properties in several townships throughout Sussex County, Qarmout maintains that this is not his first dispute with a township official in Newton. "The citation is self-explanatory, and my photographs show that there were leaves and brush present," said Inga. "I'm not the slightest bit concerned about an appeal. I have a job to do."